Between the Lines of the Ukraine Visit

View from a Catholic Editor in Russia

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LVIV, Ukraine, JULY 9, 2001 (ZENIT.orgFides).- Here is a comment on the Pope´s visit to Ukraine and its effect on Moscow-Rome relations, in the form of an editorial by Viktor Chrul, editor of Moscow´s Catholic weekly, Svet Evangelija (Voice of the Gospel).

Chrul, a member of the papal entourage in Ukraine, is also spokesman for Moscow-based Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, apostolic administrator for Latin Catholics in Southern European Russia.

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In several media-conferences Holy See spokesman Dr. Joaquín Navarro-Valls said that the Pope´s visit to Ukraine has a significance of its own, outside the Russian context. But journalists continue to connect it with Russia-Vatican dialogue, tracing the stages of the Pope´s pilgrimage from Kiev to Moscow via the next announced stops, Yerevan, Armenia, and Astana, Kazakhstan.

All the world continues to say that the Pope is anxious to visit two countries, Russia and China. China, for political reasons, is still only a distant dream. But he is drawing near to Russia with bold steps.

There is talk of a «Vatican encirclement» of Moscow: Soon, not one of the city´s neighbors will not have been visited by Pope John Paul. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia in 1993; today, Ukraine; last year, Georgia; in the near future, Armenia and Kazakhstan. They are also talking about Belarus, although the present visit there of Alexy II, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, is probably reinforcing the ´´defenses» put up by President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who is against meeting the Pontiff.

As the papal journey to Ukraine drew near, Russian Catholics grew visibly excited. They even voiced their own invitation to the Pope of Rome in public press conferences, and the president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian Federation, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, said that all the conditions necessary for the visit had been met.

The Patriarchate of Moscow reacted immediately, calling the invite made by Russian Catholics «interference in Russia´s internal affairs and pressure on state authorities.»

During the Mass celebrated by John Paul II in Kiev, banners with «we want to Pope to come to Moscow» were clearly visible all over and journalists hunted down Archbishop Kondrusiewicz to ask his opinion.

For his part, Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman, did his best to restore calm, stressing that the Pope is interested in Ukraine for itself, as a great nation, not as a steppingstone on the path to Moscow (which is absolutely correct). However, he did not exclude the visit, recalling that for Greece, everything was settled in a couple of months.

The crucial moment was at Kiev Philharmonic where the Pope met with religious representatives including Filarete, patriarch of Kiev and all Russia-Ukraine, not recognized by any other Orthodox Church. This event caused different reactions.

A representative of the department for foreign relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Igor Vyzhanov, said immediately at the press office in Kiev that this act «will have very negative consequences for the future development of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue,» while the editor in chief of the NG-religija magazine, Maksim Shevcenko, on the contrary, expressed warm appreciation for the gesture made by the Pope a noble and wise man, able to maintain his high dignity while keeping his distance, as far as protocol permitted, from leaders of non-canonical Churches.

What is more, precisely on the eve of the Pope´s visit to Ukraine, an Orthodox agency, Russian Line, published a leaflet entitled «The Crusade of Pope Wojtyla.» On the cover there was a map of Russia with a strategic arrow pointing toward Moscow.

The leaflet, advertised on the Internet and circulated in Orthodox parishes, contains articles by the Patriarch of Moscow Alexis II, Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev Vladimir, Orthodox Archbishop of Lviv Avgustin and other members of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, all of whom consider the Pope´s visit to Ukraine a challenge to Orthodoxy.

There are phrases like «invasion by foreigners,» «profanation of the land of the forefathers,» «a threat to the fatherland» and calls to «defend the Orthodox faith from blasphemy» and to remember when «the Cossacks beat the Poles.»

Nevertheless, since the Pope´s encounter with Patriarch Filarete, there has still been no official reaction from the Patriarchate of Moscow. This silence could evolve to a marked worsening of relations, even to the cessation of official contact. Certainly it will not increase the probabilities that Patriarch Alexis II will consent to the Pope´s visit to Moscow. But all the same it has not prevented the Patriarch from welcoming the relics of St. Nicholas of Bari brought by Italian Dominicans and to publicly embrace the latter, just as it has not prevented him from accepting generous financial aid from various Catholic foundations in support of ecumenical projects.

For Russian Catholics the events in Kiev are a source of joy: For some time many of them have been convinced that it is useless to negotiate the patriarch´s consent with diplomatic concessions. Moreover, if we realize that the situation in West Ukraine for the Russian Orthodox Church is without return, it is obvious that the Pope´s visit to Russia, as Navarro-Valls said in a press-conference in Kiev, «will happen when the Lord so wishes.» Well said — the Lord, not the patriarch!

Ukrainian pride and welcome

Comments on the papal visit to Ukraine were almost all passionate, not without nationalism and references to a miracle.

For example, one priest said that the Pope´s song during the youth rally in Lviv stopped the rain. Two parish women, near me during the liturgy, came to an interesting conclusion when they noted with pride that the Pope´s flag has almost the same colors as the Ukrainian flag. This means, they deducted, that Ukraine has a special importance in the life of the Pope, and vice versa.

Speaking with the people and reading the local press it almost seemed as if during the Pope´s visit, overcome with national pride the Ukrainians completely forget the words of St. Paul — «There is neither Jew nor Greek …» — but there are Ukrainians! And yet the Pope reminded them every day, as we can see when we reread his homilies and speeches, that the message of this pilgrimage was far more universal than national.

In any case it is also true that the Pope turned world attention on to a Church which has lived for decades underground and which has always commemorated her martyrs. «We love the Pope! Can Moscow hear us? Can Beijing hear us?» This was the cry at the crowded sports stadium: They were proud to have welcomed the Pope before these two capitals.

Ecumenical dialogue: the end of a monopoly

The commentators all agree that no other leader, political or spiritual, had ever spoken to the Ukrainians as John Paul II did.

«The Pope restored Ukrainians´ sense of dignity,» said Archbishop Jusef Michalik of Przemiszl, a diocese on the border with Poland. He also recalled that the Pope gave a lesson on «modern ecumenism, based on a profound understanding of one´s own identity.»

A new awareness of identity was evident: A deeper understanding of it depends on the future development of Ukraine´s spiritual-historical progress.

«The Pope´s pilgrimage showed that Ukraine is not a step on the journey to Moscow and that for the Christians of Ukraine the period in which their interests were secondary is over,» Father Boris Gudzjak, rector of the Greek-Catholic Theological Academy in Lviv, said at a press conference.

«The Patriarchate of Moscow no longer has a monopoly on ecumenical dialogue,» added Miroslav Marynovich, the academy director who in Soviet times spent 12 years in [confinement] for his religious convictions.

That both sides are genuinely anxious for
dialogue was seen at the papal Mass in Kiev, attended also by numerous Orthodox faithful. «These are facts: in the meantime the hierarchy speaks of conflict,» the rector said.

«The Holy Father´s pilgrimage has not had a negative effect on Catholic-Orthodox relations, on the contrary, it has opened a new stage of dialogue» Joaquín Navarro-Valls, Holy See spokesman, said on June 27, the last day of the visit.

One of the arguments for this statement was the presence during the Byzantine liturgy at the sports stadium of two Orthodox priests, Ioann Sviridov and Innokentij Pavlov.

Father Sviridov said he could not miss such an event, and that he felt he had to respond to the Pope´s call for dialogue, concord and communion.

Navarro-Valls said one fruit of the visit will be peace among the Christians of different confessions in Ukraine. Regarding the institution of a Greek-Catholic Patriarchate in Ukraine, the head of the Holy See Press Office said he did not have sufficient information on the matter, but he voiced the hope that the Pope will make this decision as soon as conditions are right.

The heart: Ukraine´s martyrs and youth

The highlight of the Papal visit was the Byzantine Liturgy with the beatification of the Martyrs, but the «heart» of the pilgrimage, as always, was John Paul II´s meeting with youth. The local television has promised to show its recording of the event, after the many requests coming from people who heard about it, but were unable to take part.

The Holy Father, remarkably more lively and vivacious than usual, appeared rejuvenated and his address, distinctly articulated, was loud and clear. The Ukrainians said, enthusiastically, «you could hardly notice his Polish accent!» His song about the rain and the sun, improvised in the middle of the homily, left the young people speechless. Now youngsters in Lviv are saying that the first producer to release a recording of this unusual soundtrack will make a fortune.

The youth rally left a deep impression of purity, enthusiasm, communion and experience of the universal Church. «Many nonbelievers who took part came away from the meeting with their hearts open to receive the faith,» Father Boris remarked. «This is of vital importance in a country where unemployment and poverty are widespread, life expectancy is as low as 50, few babies are born and 2 million of its people are emigrants overseas.»

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