Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
May 21, 2001
Russian Orthodox protest papal visit
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
MOSCSOW — About 1,000 people marched down Moscow's main street to the Kremlin to protest Pope John Paul's planned visit to Ukraine.
The May 12 demonstration, approved by the Russian Orthodox Church, marked a rare cooperative effort between the country's largest faith and a mainstream political party, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
United by a common threat - the rebirth of the Catholic Church on historically Orthodox territory - conservative Orthodox clergy, Cossacks and lay people marched alongside ultra-nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Stoked by months of public complaining by Russian Orthodox leaders about the pope's visit, the demonstrators' anger was focused on the Catholic Church, an institution some said was a political tool for Western governments bent on fomenting Yugoslav-style ethnic unrest in the former Soviet Union.
"We don't want what happened in Yugoslavia to happen here. They were all Slavs there - the Bosnians, the Croats, the Serbs - but they divided along religious lines," said demonstrator Gennady Moskalyov, 47.
Most of Ukraine's 49 million citizens are Orthodox. About five million people in western Ukraine are Ukrainian Catholics, a Church loyal to the Vatican but which uses a liturgy virtually identical to the Orthodox.
Beginning in 1946, the Soviet government banned the Ukrainian Catholic Church and gave its properties to the Russian Orthodox Church. After the ban on the Church was lifted in 1989, Ukrainian Catholics reclaimed more than 1,500 parishes.
Violence sometimes accompanied the transfer of churches in the early 1990s, leading to fears of renewed violence.
"If the pope comes, there will be more bloodletting," said Abbot Stefan, a Russian Orthodox monk.
At a May 7 press conference in Lviv, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, compared the possibility of anti-pope protests in Ukraine to those in Greece.
"The behaviour of the Orthodox looks bad and the world will condemn them for that," he said. However, he warned against characterizing "the Catholics as knights on white horses or the Orthodox as people with horns and tails."
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