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June 23-27, 2001    
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• "Reflecting on John Paul"-- Kyiv Post // 07.07.2001 (12:52)

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"Reflecting on John Paul"-- Kyiv Post

It would be hard to imagine a better remedy for Ukraine's image problems than Pope John Paul II's visit this week. After suffering months of justified world scrutiny about the corrupt nature of its political system, the Pope stepped foot in Ukraine, and suddenly all of that bad coverage began to change.

07.07.2001 (12:52) // Religious Information Service of Ukraine
Source: Kyiv Post Editorial, 29 Jun 2001

   Instead of talking about Ukraine's slow and dangerous waltz toward dictatorship, suddenly the world was talking about Ukraine as a possible catalyst for healing the schism that has divided Christianity for a millennium.

  There is no question that the Pope's visit was a great event for this country –probably the greatest moment the country has seen since it declared independence in 1991. It's a particularly good sign that most citizens took the opportunity to be, if not outwardly enthusiastic, at least hospitable to the pope.

  With the Moscow loyal Ukrainian Orthodox Church urging the Pope to stay away and fomenting distrust of the Pope among its 10 million or so loyalists, it was good to see many of Ukraine's Orthodox believers remain above the talk of their leaders. The Russian loyal church leaders said they distrusted the Pope's motives for the visit, accusing him of plotting to win converts through the Greek Catholic Church.

  John Paul II long ago proved that he is not out to antagonize Orthodox believers but to reconcile with them. He saw his visit as a golden opportunity to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, Orthodox leaders steadfastly refused to take advantage of that opportunity.

  Ironically, there may just be some converts to Catholicism, but not as a result of the Pope's solicitations. Rather, the hostile, negative attitude of Russian Orthodox Church leaders could drive loyalists away from the Russian church. Those leaders in the past have been accused of avoiding reconciliation out of fear of losing influence. Their attitude toward the Pope's visit only reinforces that suspicion.

  If Russian Orthodoxy, through its own misguided stance, lost the most from the papal visit, there's no question who gained the most: Kuchma. Indeed, the Ukrainian president deserves credit for inviting the pope, a gesture that will improve his record in the one and only presidential subject he has not flunked since taking office—religious freedom and ethnic tolerance. Still, no amount of religious tolerance absolves the president of letting the country decay into a cesspool of corruption and high level greed. Those ills will take much more than a papal visit to cure.

  The true winner of the Pope's visit is not Kuchma, but the Pope and his Greek Catholic flock. John Paul II’s trip, more than just a visit to his Ukraine based followers, was an enormously symbolic visit to the former territory of the Soviet empire he helped bring down. The fall of the Iron Curtain allowed members of the Greek Catholic Church to emerge from the underground, reclaim their parishes and honor their beliefs freely for the first time in 40 years. The Pope's visit was a deserved, if belated, celebration of the re-emergence of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.

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