Pope Visits Ukraine

ByABC News

June 23, 2001 -- Pope John Paul arrived in Kiev, Ukraine today to build reconciliation between Catholics and Russian Orthodox. But his trip has also produced controversy.

Russian Orthodox believers have been against the trip. At the same time, John Paul was arriving in Kiev, the Patriarch of Moscow's Russian Orthodox church was making a point of arriving in independent Belarus, where he said "The Orthodox Church asked the Pope not to visit Ukraine, but he's doing it anyway. We hope it won't bring confrontation."

No Intention of ‘Proselytizing’

The pope responded to frequent complaints in the past from Moscow that the Vatican is seeking to extend its influence in traditional Orthodox lands, saying, "I have not come here with the intention of proselytizing."

Today, the pontiff spoke about cooperation between Catholics and Orthodox, and all of Ukraine's religious sects.

But the pope's underlying mission is to encourage Ukraine to embrace the West and to develop Ukraine's democracy.

John Paul implored Ukrainians to reinforce their independence — won from Russian only 10 years ago. Ukraine's many competing religions, he said, should cooperate to unify Ukraine.

Russia's Shadow of Influence

Russia's government has recently gained major influence over large parts of Ukraine's economy. The pope beseeched Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma and his government to push pro-Western reforms. He reminded them of, as he said, "the terrible years of Soviet dictatorship," and said Ukraine's natural identity is part of Western Europe.

On Sunday, in Kiev's Symphony Hall, the pope will meet leaders of all of Ukraine's religions— except its largest, the Russian Orthodox.

Their leaders, who are closely allied with Moscow's government, refuse to come, perhaps denoting discord among Ukraine's religions in the future.

ABCNEWS' Bill Blakemore in Kiev contributed to this report.

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