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Ukraine: More Than 300,000 Attend Pope's Mass In Lviv

  • Askold Krushelnycky

Pope John Paul, on a five-day tour of Ukraine, today presided over the first of two masses in western Ukraine, where the overwhelming majority of the country's six million Catholics live. RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky reports that the pope appealed for the healing of old wounds between Poles and Ukrainians in a part of Europe filled with ancient enmities.

Lviv, Ukraine; 26 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A huge crowd attended Pope John Paul's open-air mass today in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

The turnout, estimated at between 300,000 and half a million people, was in marked contrast to the disappointing attendance at the first two masses in Ukraine presided over by the pope.

Those services were held in Kyiv, the capital of the predominantly Orthodox Christian Ukraine. Ukraine's two Orthodox churches welcomed the pope, and his visit -- the first by a pope to Ukraine -- is regarded positively by most Ukrainians.

In Lviv, as in Kyiv, the pope is holding one Latin-rite mass and one Byzantine-rite mass in the city on successive days. Ukraine's five million Greek Catholics observe the Eastern rite, but accept the pope as head of their church.

Today's was the Latin-rite mass and tens of thousands of Poles who traveled from neighboring Poland swelled the numbers of Ukrainian Roman Catholics. Poland's Primate, Cardinal Josef Glemp, the head of the church, was among the attendees.

Scores of Polish red-and-white flags mingled with Ukrainian blue-and-yellow emblems in the hippodrome racetrack where the mass was held. Hundreds of white-and-yellow Vatican flags were also waved by an enthusiastic crowd under a bright blue sky and warm sunshine.

Pope John Paul thanked the crowd for the tumultuous welcome he had received when he arrived in Lviv Monday evening (25 June) from Kyiv, where he spent the first three days of his visit to Ukraine. He seemed more cheerful than in Kyiv, as his white, high-sided "pope-mobile" bumped along Lviv's cobblestone streets. When much of western Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Lviv -- or Lemberg, as its German-speaking rulers called it -- was a thriving, commercial city, full of splendid Hapsburg buildings and baroque churches.

Lviv still retains much of its old architecture. But despite a massive effort to brighten the city ahead of the pope's visit, many buildings have a worn-out look.

In Kyiv, the pope's main theme was reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. In Lviv, he appealed for a healing of the wounds caused by bitter, and often bloody, conflicts over the centuries between Poles and Ukrainians.

Western Ukraine and its largest city, Lviv, have seen much bloodshed in wars between the two peoples, with territorial control changing hands many times. In the years between the two world wars, western Ukraine belonged to Poland. The territory was annexed by Stalin when the Soviet dictator attacked Poland in concert with Hitler in 1939.

After the mass today, the pope beatified two Polish 19th-century priests, Archbishop Jozef Bilczewski and Father Zygmunt Gorazdowski, who lived in what is now western Ukraine. Beatification is the next-to-last stage in the process of achieving sainthood.

In his sermon, the pope recalled that when Bilczewski was installed as archbishop, with him at the same ceremony were two prominent churchmen, Polish bishop Jazef Pelczar and Archbishop Andriy Sheptytsky, one of the most revered figures in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The pope recited this part of his sermon in both Polish and Ukrainian.

"Their union remains a sign and a call for the faithful of their respective flocks, summoned by their example to build the communion which remains threatened by the memory of past experiences and by the prejudices stirred up by nationalism. Today, in praising God for the indomitable fidelity to the Gospel of these, his servants, let us feel ourselves gently moved to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel of not a few Christians of both Polish and Ukrainian origin living in these parts. It is time to leave behind the sorrowful past."

There was prolonged applause when the pope made an appeal for unity between the Polish and Ukrainian peoples.

"May the purification of historical memories lead everyone to work for the triumph of what unites over what divides, in order to build a future of mutual respect, fraternal cooperation, and true solidarity. Today, Archbishop Jozef Bilczewski and his companions Pelczar and Szeptycki exhort you: be united, be united."

Later today, the pope was due to bless a new Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Afterwards, he will meet with youth from Lviv at a local church. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to try to get close to the church to catch a glimpse of the pope.

Tomorrow, Pope John Paul will hold his last mass in Ukraine, this one according to the Greek Catholic rite. The service is expected to attract the largest crowd of the pope's visit.