Over there Russian Orthodoxy hasits cornerstone. And over there, there is the most numerous Eastern Catholic population. With John Paul II the two Churches were at loggerheads. With Benedict XVI the turning point. But peace is still far away

by Sandro Magister

ROME, June 28, 2010 – (Chiesa News) - From many years now the feast of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul is a deep moment of dialogue between the Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, with the participation of delegates from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, if not of the Patriarch himself, to the liturgies celebrated by the Pope.

This dialogue with Benedict XVI has made incredible progress. Even the primacy of the Pope – main historical reason for the schism –is not taboo anymore and has become the object of ecumenical seminars.

During the current pontificate, even the relationships between the Church of Rome and the larger part of the Orthodoxy, that is the Church of Russia, have definitely improved. Both agree in addressing together the major priority for Christians in Europe today: a new evangelization of all of those who are far from faith. The same new evangelization which Benedict XVI has decided to dedicate a specific office of the Roman Curia.

At a practical stage though, there is still an obstacle that stands between Rome and Moscow and that prevents the meeting of the Pope with the Russian Patriarch. Meeting that has never taken place in history, but that both Benedict and Kirill I wish with all their hearts.

This obstacle is Ukraine.

The relationship with the Pope that some Ukrainian Christians have, is due to historical events, the alternating dominations now and then of the Poles and of the Russians. Poland favoured it. Russia hindered it. At the end of the 1700's, when Poland disappeared as a State and the Russians occupied the region and imposed Orthodoxy, the Ukrainians faithful to the Pope moved to Galicia which was part of Vienna's Catholic empire. It is here that in the 1800's the myth of the Slav Pope capable of giving them a victory was born.

But during the Second World War the Soviet Union occupied all of Ukraine; even the Greek-Catholic Church that had survived in Galicia was wiped out. In 1946 Moscow organized at Lvov, Russian name for the Ukrainian Lviv, a so called synod which obliged everyone to turn to Orthodoxy. The Archbishop Josyf Slipji, legitimate head of the Greek-Catholics was put in prison. He will be released and exiled in 1963.

In 1989 thanks to the fall of the Berlin wall the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church was able to leave its catacombs with its Bishops, its priests and its faithful. It immediately claimed the Orthodox Church to give back the churches and the houses. In some cases, few, the rendering was carried out peacefully. But in many other areas the issue was a reason for physical conflict, with violent occupations and ejections. A conflict which is still today only partially resolved.

In 2001 Pope John Paul II galvanized the Catholics when he visited Ukraine and canonized 27 martyrs of the Communist regime, one of which was killed in boiling water, another crucified in prison and another buried alive.

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