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Ukraine: Pope Begins Historic Visit

Kyiv, 23 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Pope John Paul II started his visit to Ukraine today by saying he was not there to convert Orthodox Christians and asked that errors of both the distant and recent past which have split Orthodox and Catholic Christians be forgiven. The 81-year-old Pontiff was greeted at Kyiv's airport by Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma and was offered the traditional Ukrainian welcoming gifts of salt and bread. A bowl of Ukrainian soil was also presented to the Pope who kissed it, "with great joy," he said.

The Pope's five-day tour has been shrouded by controversy. Russian Orthodox Church leaders in Moscow, who also control the majority of Orthodox parishes in Ukraine, have rejected the pope's visit. Demonstrators marched through the streets of Kyiv earlier this week denouncing the Pope's trip.

The Pope said he is in Ukraine to: "bear witness to Christ together with all the Christians of every Church."