KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 12 February 2001

UKRAINE: NUNCIO VOWS PAPAL VISIT WILL NOT BE
POSTPONED. 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'. Orthodox representatives say that the
Pope�s visit �could be played as another political card� at a time of schism
within the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

UKRAINE: NUNCIO VOWS PAPAL VISIT WILL NOT BE
POSTPONED

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service

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)