MOSCOW, MAY 13, 2001 (Zenit.org).- About 1,000 people, with the backing of Russian Orthodox Church leaders, protested here Saturday against John Paul II´s forthcoming visit to Ukraine.
The demonstration began at midday in Pushkin Square. According to the press spokesman of the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate, the protest was a sign of the opposition to the papal trip to Ukraine and to Catholic expansion in Ukrainian soil, considered the prerogative of the Russian patriarchate.
The Pope is due to travel next month to Ukraine, where 5 million Eastern-rite Catholics recognize the supremacy of the Vatican. He has been invited by the Ukrainian government.
Moscow protesters distributed leaflets that read: “Directed to all Orthodox Christians of the Great, Little, and White Russia. We address you especially so that, with all the rights conferred by the law, you will impede the Pope´s visit to Ukraine. Organize Christian Orthodox ´pickets,´ meetings and processions.” Ukrainians are also urged to mobilize against the papal visit, set to begin June 23.
The protesters, many shouting “No to the visit of the globalist apostle,” were accompanied by music bands and led by various Russian Parliamentary deputies, including Vladimir Zherenovski, head of the extreme right Liberal Democratic Party.
On Friday, the heads of the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches criticized the Pope´s plan to visit Ukraine, saying he should have sought the permission of Orthodox clergy before agreeing to go.
Russian Patriarch Alexy II and visiting Greek Archbishop Christodoulos also repeated lukewarm views of the Pope´s historic apology for wrongs committed against Orthodox believers by Catholics, which he made while recently visiting Greece. The Greek population in general warmly welcomed the Pope´s apology.
“The patriarch [Alexy] said that the future will show whether the Pope was sincere´´ in the apology, Christodoulos was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.
Christodoulos had been in Russia since May 5, arriving after the Pope´s visit to Greece, where the pontiff asked God to forgive Catholics for sins committed against the Orthodox since the Great Schism of 1054.
“It is important that this visit not worsen the tensions between Orthodox and (Ukrainian Catholics),´´ Interfax quoted Russian Church spokesman Metropolitan Kirill as saying. “If the Pope wishes to make a mission of peace to Ukraine, he should listen to the position of the Orthodox Church of that country.´´
The Russian Orthodox Church has denied the Pope´s repeated requests to visit Russia. Orthodox leaders cite property disputes in Western Ukraine and accuse Catholics of proselytizing.
Ukrainian Catholics were fiercely persecuted under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and much of their church property was turned over to the Orthodox Church, which was closely monitored by the atheist Soviet state. Since Ukraine became independent in 1991, ownership disputes have flared between its churches.