The visit by Pope John Paul II to Ukraine from June 23 to 27 at the invitation of the country's president and Catholic leaders, was marked by a simmering controversy between Ukraine's biggest Orthodox church and the Vatican about the role of the Catholic Church in traditionally Orthodox lands.
One of the main points at issue is the role in Ukraine of the five million-strong Greek Catholic Church, which was banned by the Soviet authorities for 44 years and regained its legal status in 1990.
The revival of the church—which follows Eastern liturgy but is loyal to the Pope—has prompted disputes over church property. Its buildings had been confiscated by the state authorities under communism and in many cases were handed over to the Orthodox. Since 1990, more than 1000 of these places of worship have been returned to the revived Greek Catholic Church.
During his trip the Pope called on Catholics in Ukraine to "build appropriate forms of fraternal co-operation" with Orthodox Christians, who make up three-fifths of Ukraine's population of 50 million.
However, in what was widely interpreted as a calculated snub to the 81-year old pontiff, Metropolitan Vladimir, the leader of Ukraine's biggest Orthodox church,left the country during the papal visit.
According to Hilarion Alfeyev, an official at the Moscow Patriarchate's department of external church relations, "one thing is clear—this visit won't improve relations between us."
Alfeyev said the Pope's visit to Ukraine would "certainly not bring closer" a possible ...1