ROME, MAY 31, 2002 ( A Catholic church was inaugurated in Slavutyc, a city built for workers of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

The first Mass was celebrated May 21 by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, apostolic nuncio in Ukraine, according to the Vidimus Dominum news service.

The ceremony of the blessing of the church, dedicated to St. Eugene de Mazenod (1782-1861), founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was attended by Ukrainian men and women of that religious family, as well as local Catholics.

Slavutyc is still considered dangerous because of the radiation resulting from the May 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl.

In response to a request from local bishops, the first community of Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate began its apostolate in this region in June 1993. Four religious evangelize this territory inhabited by 1.3 million people.

During the first years, the religious celebrated Mass in the atrium of the church´s old building in Cernihiv, capital of the region. The building is still used as a state archive.

Although Catholics of the city of Slavutyc, which has 27,000 inhabitants, asked for the sacraments, they had no place of worship.

During the homily of the Mass, the apostolic nuncio promised that he would tell John Paul II about the church´s inauguration. The Pope visited Ukraine last June.

Father Pavlo Vyshkovskyy, a Ukraine-born priest, told Vidimus Dominum that "the Missionary Oblates are working so that this zone" will become a "sign of hope."

"The men who return to God can also build the civilization of love on the ruins of their mistakes and their sins," he said. "The Catholic community of Slavutyc, which for a long time moved from house to house, both private and government, for celebrations, can from now on remain in its own church."

"Until now people have only come here to see the consequences of the stupidity and haughtiness of men," the priest added. "Now, with the consecration of the new church, there is the hope of understanding that the renewal of mankind, of the family, and of society is possible, if we put our lives in God´s hands."