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Russians Impressed With Pope During His Ukraine Trip

MOSCOW, JULY 3, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Russians seem to be favorable to a papal visit after seeing extensive media coverage of John Paul II's trip to Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin has already said he is open to a papal visit, though he is cautious so as not to offend the Orthodox Church, according to the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

05.07.2001 (11:51) // Religious Information Service of Ukraine
Source: Zenit.org, July 3, 2001

   Last month, for the first time, a papal visit captured the attention of Russian television and newspapers. Live coverage and positive media commentaries -- tracked John Paul II's visits to Kyiv and Lviv in Ukraine.

  "What was most impressive was the Pope's extraordinary humility and openness," said Maksim Shevchenko, director of Nezavismaja Gazeta. The newspaper published an interview with Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, archbishop of Lviv for Greek-rite Catholics, in order to make known the point of view of Greek-Catholics. In the past, Greek-Catholics have been demonized by the Russian press.

  According to a survey published last week by Interfax Russian agency, 63% of Russians said they want to see John Paul II. Only 17% are opposed to the visit. The poll's margin of error was not reported.

  For years the Communist press portrayed the Pontiff as an authoritarian and despotic head of a foreign hostile power. Instead, Russians saw a frail elderly man, who appeared modest and respectful.

  "A nonpolitical leader, a man sincerely dedicated to the cause of unity among Christians, a real surprise for Russia," is how Aleksander Kyrlezev described the Holy Father. Kyrlezev is a member of the Theological Synodal Commission, which dissents from the Moscow Patriarchate's official line.

  Many newspapers underlined the contrast between this trip and Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II's visit to Belarus. The Kommersant newspaper published a picture of John Paul II in Kyiv, along with a photo of the patriarch in Minsk, embracing authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko and voicing opposition to a papal visit to Moscow.

  "And yet, there has been a significant opening," Moscow Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz told the newspaper Avvenire. "For the first time, Patriarch Alexy has not placed the invitation of the Orthodox Church as a condition for the Pope's trip to Moscow, but simply its agreement. This is what happened in Greece."

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