Huge Crowd Flocks to Pope's Mass in Ukraine
A vast crowd of up to half a million worshippers packed an open-air stadium in western Ukraine Tuesday as Pope John Paul II celebrated mass in the Catholic heartland of the former Soviet republic.
Organisers said that between 300,000 and 500,000 Catholics had gathered at Lviv's racecourse where the 81-year-old pontiff arrived in his popemobile amid rapturous scenes on the penultimate day of his visit to Ukraine.
The huge turnout contrasted starkly with disappointing attendances for two masses held by the pope in Kiev, traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Russian Orthodoxy.
It also highlighted the religious and geographical divide that John Paul has failed to bridge on his controversial pilgrimage to Ukraine.
Hundreds of thousands of Catholics of all ages waved blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags and shouted "Long Live the Pope!" in Ukrainian and Polish as the frail pontiff, dressed in his customary white robes and a gold chasuble, beatified two Lviv clerics who died in the 1920s.
Also speaking in both languages, the pope hailed as "a special cause for rejoicing" and a "marvellous gift" his own personal connection with the Lviv, which was until World War II a part of his native Poland.
Outlawed by the Soviet Union in 1946, and all but destroyed in the course of half a century of Communist persecution, the Uniate (or) Greek Catholic church has risen from the ashes since it was officially re-established a decade ago in newly independent and multi-denominational Ukraine.
But speaking only 70 kilometres (40 miles) from today's Polish border, the pontiff delivered a passionate appeal to Ukraine's Roman Catholics to help end the bitter disputes that have marred his historic visit.
The pope acknowledged that many Poles still live in Lviv, western Ukraine, which was the scene of bloody fighting between the two peoples in the aftermath of World War I.
"It is time to leave behind the sorrowful past. The Christians of Poland and Ukraine must walk together in the name of the one Christ, guided by the principle of unity. May pardon given and received spread like a healing balm in every heart," the pope said -- LVIV, Ukraine (AFP)
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