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The BBC's Robert Pigott in Ukraine
"The Pope's visit is a political coup for Ukraine"
 real 56k

Saturday, 23 June, 2001, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Pope flies into Ukraine controversy
Pope John Paul II and President Leonid Kuchma at airport
The pontiff was welcomed with full honours by Kuchma
Pope John Paul II has arrived in Ukraine for one of the most controversial visits of his papal career.

Finally, with deep joy, I have been able to kiss the beloved soil of Ukraine

Pope John Paul II
The ailing pontiff descended unaided from his plane soon after it landed at Borispil Airport outside Kiev, where he was greeted warmly by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and children in traditional costume.

A military band played and a small group of local people waved Vatican flags and signs welcoming the visiting Pope.

During the five-day trip he is expected to face fierce opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, which has called for it to be cancelled.

Eastern Orthodox priests greet Pope
Not all Orthodox clergy are boycotting the visit
The pontiff, the first Slav Pope in history, wants to bolster the faith of an isolated pocket of five million Catholics who live in the country.

"Finally, with deep joy, I have been able to kiss the beloved soil of Ukraine," the Pope said, speaking in Ukrainian. "I thank God for the gift that he has given me today"

He then appealed to Ukraine's Orthodox Christians to forgive "errors" committed towards them in ancient and modern times, as Catholics "forgave the wrongs" done to them.

Orthodox opposition

The Russian Patriarchate has asked the 81-year-old pontiff to stay away from its spiritual centre, the Pecherska Lavra monastery in Kiev.

"We will stage all-night prayers near the Lavra and St Sophia's Cathedral to prevent the Pope visiting our sacred places," spokesman Bishop Mitrofan told a news conference.

I am convinced that this visit will contribute to the establishment of peace between the faiths in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma
The run-up to Pope John Paul's visit has seen a wave of demonstrations and bitter turf wars.

His visit follows other historic trips earlier this year to Greece, Syria and Malta. The Pope visited Greece despite vociferous objections from Orthodox Christians.

Mr Kuchma, who overruled the objection of the local Orthodox Church in inviting the Pope, appealed to the country's 10 million Orthodox worshippers to remain calm during the Pope's trip.

"I am convinced that this visit will contribute to the establishment of peace between the faiths in Ukraine," Mr Kuchma said.

'God-given mission'

But the Russian Patriarch, Alexis II, has warned that the visit could further strain relations between his Church and the Vatican at a time when Catholics say they want closer inter-faith ties.

Anti-Pope protest
The visit has split Ukraine's religously divided population
The local Orthodox Church accuses the country's Catholics of violently seizing its property and persecuting its priests and congregation.

However, at Mr Kuchma's invitation and against the wishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church, the pontiff will celebrate two Latin and two Byzantine masses for nearly two million people in Kiev and Lviv.

The BBC's Rome correspondent says the Pope feels he has a God-given mission to heal the split between Eastern and Western Christians.

Our correspondent says the pontiff wants to go down in history as the Pope who, just as he refused to accept the permanency of the political divisions of the Cold War, also refuses to regard these ancient religious feuds as eternal at the start of the third Christian Millennium.

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See also:

22 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Ukraine: A contentious papal trip
22 Jun 01 | Media reports
Ukrainian media upbeat on Pope's visit
21 Jun 01 | Europe
Storms await Pope's Ukraine visit
07 May 01 | Middle East
Mosque visit crowns Pope's tour
29 Mar 01 | World
Pope reaches out to Islam
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