UKRAINE: Nuncio Vows Papal Visit will not be Postponed.

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service, 12 February 2001

Despite the opposition of the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to the June visit by Pope John Paul II to Ukraine, the papal nuncio Archbishop Nikola Eterovic insists `the date of the visit will not be reviewed'. Speaking to Keston News Service in Yalta on 6 February, he confirmed that the Pope `intends to visit Kiev and Lviv'. A presidential spokesman agreed that there will be no postponement despite the opposition of Ukraine's largest Orthodox Church. `There is no way that the date of the visit can be postponed,' Aleksandr Martynenko told Keston from Kiev on 9 February, adding that John Paul `plans to take services in Kiev and Lviv'.

On 22 January the Ukrainian Orthodox Synod, with the agreement of all 42 bishops, approved a written appeal from Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan) to the Pope urgently requesting him to postpone his visit (see KNS 5 February 2001). Archbishop Eterovic told Keston he `regretted' the Synod's decision, but believed `the decision is not final'.

However, opposition from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church shows no sign of abating. `The West has always been notable for its pushiness,' declared Metropolitan Volodymyr's secretary and adviser Aleksandr Drobinko. `We don't insist that the visit should not take place, we are simply asking that it should be postponed until a more propitious time,' he told Keston by telephone from the Kiev Metropolitanate on 9 February. `At a time of schism within the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, his arrival could be played as another political card, and the bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will not be able to meet him during this visit. If, despite an appeal from so many bishops, they do not want to change the date of the visit, it means that there are weighty reasons.' Drobinko insists the Roman Catholic Church is acting `improperly towards Ukraine's 30 million Orthodox believers'.

Asked by Keston why the Ukrainian Orthodox Church believes the Pope cannot meet his flock in Ukraine, Drobinko declared that `the Pope has been invited as head of the Vatican State, but he is travelling as a spiritual personage'. He said his Church would raise no objection if the Pope came to the country `simply as a diplomat'.

In defence of the Synod's decision and the episcopate's belief that a papal visit is impossible, the Orthodox argue that his visit `will not bring about peace' between the Orthodox and the Eastern-rite Catholics in the western regions of Ukraine but will simply aggravate relations. Moreover, the Orthodox fear `the lack of clarity in the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church towards the schisms' in Ukraine. A potential meeting between the Pope and leaders of `schismatic groups' of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church would be tantamount to `ignoring the principles of canonical relations between churches' and would constitute `discourteous interference in the internal affairs' of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Invited by President Leonid Kuchma, Pope John Paul is scheduled to visit Ukraine from 23 to 27 June. Martynenko of the presidential administration told Keston that `the Pope of Rome has been invited, above all, as head of the Vatican State and as a state dignitary'. The Ukrainian authorities share the Pope's belief that his first visit to the country will promote dialogue between Orthodox communities in the country.

Metropolitan Volodymyr's appeal to the Pope echoed an earlier and even harsher letter from Orthodox brotherhoods insisting that the Pope must put off his visit. The letter - drawn up at a convention of Orthodox brotherhoods in Kiev last December - was sent at the same time to President Kuchma.

Just as it is protesting against the Pope's visit, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate also opposes a proposed visit to the country this spring by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. A theological commission under Patriarch Bartholomew's auspices has begun seeking canonical ways towards unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the second and third largest Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine. (END)