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Pope home from disputed Ukraine tour

Pope John Paul II
The pope says his farewells with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.  


ROME, Italy -- Pope John Paul II returned home Wednesday after a controversial visit to Ukraine during which he was fiercely opposed by that country's largest Orthodox Church.

The pope bid an emotional farewell to Ukraine earlier Wednesday at the end of a visit during which he sought to foster religious and national unity.

"Unity and harmony. This is the secret of peace and the condition for true and stable social development," the pontiff was quoted as saying by the Associated Press in his farewell speech at the Lviv airport.

"It is thanks to this combination of intentions and actions that Ukraine, homeland of faith and dialogue, will see its dignity recognized in the community of nations."

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CNN's Jim Bittermann reports on the last Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Ukraine (June 27)

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CNN's Jill Dougherty reports on the pope's visit to a religiously divided Ukraine (June 26)

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A highlight of the last day was a Mass notable not only for the 1 million people who attended but also for the presence of an Orthodox priest on the podium with the pope.

During the service the pope beatified 28 Greek Catholics, including 27 martyrs most of whom were killed by the Soviet secret police.

He stressed that people of other denominations also were persecuted and killed for their faith and was quoted by the AP as saying, "Their joint martyrdom is a pressing call to reconciliation and unity."

Church officials said several of those beatified had died grisly deaths, among them Father Yakum (Senkivskyi) who was boiled in a cauldron in 1941 while imprisoned in the Soviet Union.

The children of one of those beatified, Father Mykola Tsehelsky who died in a Siberian prison camp, said the ceremony was a great vindication of his father's tolerance in the face of persecution.

Markiyan Tsehelsky, 76, told Reuters: "Anyone who has faith in God, should forgive. You can't build anything on hatred."

His sister, 73-year-old Lidiya, said: "When my father was taken away, he prayed to the heavens as they drove him off. He blessed everyone in his last moments."

Ukraine's largest Catholic Church, the Greek Catholic Church, was forced underground when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin banned it in 1946 because he suspected it of being a haven for Ukrainian nationalism.

Throughout his tour, the pope pleaded for the spirit of mutual understanding and unity to allow Ukraine's two Catholic and three Orthodox denominations to live together in peace.

"Together with them [Catholics] Christians of other confessions were also persecuted and killed on account of Christ. Their joint martyrdom is a pressing call to reconciliation and unity," he said during Wednesday's ceremony.

"During the last centuries, too many stereotypical ways of thinking, too much mutual resentment and too much intolerance have accumulated," the pope said. "The only way to clear the path is to forget the past, ask forgiveness of one another and forgive one another for the wounds inflicted and received."

The leader of Ukraine's largest Orthodox Church refused to attend a meeting of all the country's religious groups in Kiev earlier in the pope's tour.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II was quoted by the AP during a visit to Belarus Wednesday as saying the Slav peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus should stay united by Orthodoxy.

"There are forces in the world whose soul is against the unity of the Slav peoples. Those forces, using peaceful rhetoric, want to break that unity apart and are engaged in attempts at spiritual and political expansion," he said in a joint statement with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.





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