Pope lands in Orthodox Ukraine
KIEV, Ukraine -- Pope John Paul II has arrived in Ukraine -- a controversial visit that has angered followers of the Orthodox church.
Protesters were kept away from the airport near Kiev as the pontiff was greeted by President Leonid Kuchma and a small group of local residents, some in colorful embroidered folk costume,
On Friday, about 200 people chanted prayers as they circled the main cathedral in Kiev's Orthodox Christian Monastery of the Caves to stress their opposition to Pope John Paul II's visit.
They said John Paul would not be allowed to visit either the monastery, where the remains of saints and other revered Orthodox figures are preserved, or the 11th-century St. Sophia Cathedral.
Neither site is currently on the itinerary for the pontiff's visit.
John Paul's trip to this mostly Slavic nation of 50 million is sharply opposed by the Russian Orthodox Church, which controls the majority of parishes.
The Russian Orthodox church say the visit epitomises what they perceive as Catholic encroachment on traditionally Orthodox territory.
Orthodox believers organised demonstrations against the visit on Thursday in Kiev and in the southern city of Dnipropetrovsk, but no further protests were planned.
"Honouring the religious feelings of Greek and Roman Catholics, we have asked our believers ... not to organize or undertake any provocative protest actions during the visit," Father Mitrofan, the Moscow-based church's property manager in Ukraine, told the Associated Press.
Mitrofan said he met recently with Vatican representatives and declined their suggestions that the Pope meet with Metropolitan Vladimir, the chief cleric of the Moscow-affiliated church in Ukraine, and visit the Monastery of the Caves, a holy site tied both with the Orthodox Church and Ukrainian national history.
Small groups of Orthodox believers circled the monastery's main cathedral on Friday, carrying a cross, icons and church banners.
"We have nothing against the pope as a man but his visit is unnecessary," said Liubov Vasylivna. "Today Ukraine is poor and there is a rift between churches, and we ask him very much not to come here."
The Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods, affiliated with the Moscow church, said it would hold prayer sessions during the night at various Orthodox churches, reciting a prayer called "Against an Adversary Coming During Time of War."
While church leaders have made angry statements, the protests in Ukraine have been small and largely muted.
Ukraine's splinter Kiev-based Orthodox church and the smaller Autocephalous Orthodox Church do not oppose the Pope's visit, while the one million Roman Catholics and estimated five million Eastern Rite Catholics are elated.
Eastern Rite Catholics follow Orthodox rituals but are loyal to the Vatican.
Outside the few Catholic churches in Kiev, volunteers handed out passes for the Chaika airfield, where the pope is due to hold Masses on Sunday and Monday.
Small knots of people crowded around tables where posters showing a smiling Pope were handed out for free.
Officials expect some 500,000 pilgrims to arrive in Kiev and at least 1.5 million in Lviv, the western Catholic stronghold where the pope is due to travel on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Moscow Patriarchate on Friday rejected proposals by the Roman Catholic Church's chief representative in Russia for a meeting between the pope and Russia's Orthodox Church leader, Patriarch Alexy II.
Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Viktor Malukhin responded by again accusing the Catholic Church of seeking to convert believers in Orthodox areas, the Interfax news agency reported.
A meeting "would make sense only if it is aimed at resolving specific burning issues, rather than becoming a protocol event or a world TV show," Malukhin was quoted as saying.
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