- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

KIEV — During a meeting yesterday with Pope John Paul II, the head of Ukraines largest Orthodox church accused his Russian counterpart of fomenting disunity in an already fractured religious landscape.

"We expect that your visit to Ukraine will encourage the development of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue and not the deepening of the division, as is propagating," said Patriarch Filaret, who heads the largest branch of Ukraine´s Orthodox church.

"The Moscow patriarchate is afraid of proselytizing. … We believe that your trip to Ukraine doesn´t have anything to do with proselytizing, but — quite the opposite — will encourage peace between Orthodox and Catholics, and the strengthening of Christian love."

It was a significant turnaround for a man who earlier had urged the pope not to come to Ukraine, saying his presence would only deepen the division between the nation´s Orthodox and Catholic faithful.

Patriarch Filaret is said to have changed his mind about the visit because of fears that Moscow is working to foment discord in Ukraine. Just this weekend, the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexy II, told Russian news media that the pope´s visit would complicate relations between the two faiths in Ukraine.

Speaking on Ukrainian television, Patriarch Filaret said he understood Russia´s fear of the pope proselytizing.

"In my opinion, however, this is a sign of weakness," he said.

The pope, meanwhile, continued to preach tolerance and reconciliation during the second day of his five-day visit to Ukraine.

"The religious element is an essential part of the personal identity of everyone, no matter the race, people or culture to which they belong," he told Ukraine´s religious leaders.

"Continue without ceasing in your common search for an increased sharing of the values of religion lived in freedom and of tolerance lived in justice. This is the most significant contribution that you can make to the overall progress of Ukrainian society."

The pope held Mass for nearly 150,000 people in a large field at an airport outside Kiev early in the day.

Organizers had expected twice that many, but a walk of nearly three miles from the closest public transportation as well as bad weather may have kept some people at home.

The pope´s rhetoric notwithstanding, his trip is becoming increasingly political.

While on the first day of his visit the pontiff talked of Ukraine´s place in Europe, yesterday he identified Kiev as a cradle of Christianity, a position that was likely to be offensive to the Russian church.

"From Kiev there began that flowering of Christian life which the Gospel first brought forth in the land of the ancient Rus," the pope said in reference to the original inhabitants of Russia, whose origin is in dispute among scholars. The pope said the Gospel spread from Ukraine to Eastern Europe, "and later, beyond the Urals, in the lands of Asia."

The pope also continued to visit places of political persecution.

In a moving tribute to victims of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, the pope visited a forested area near Bykivnia, a village on the outskirts of Kiev.

It was there between 1937 and 1941 that the NKVD shot potential dissenters to Stalin´s regime.

The exact number of victims is not known, but photos of many, along with biographies or personal notes from relatives, have been tacked to the trees.

The pontiff prayed for two minutes near a memorial in the forest and blessed the site.

The relatives of some 100 victims were present.

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