Pope Calls Ukrainian Summit Inviting Clandestine Bishops
VATICAN CITY (AP) _ For the first time since the Ukrainian Catholic Church was banned more than four decades ago, its clandestine bishops will meet with the pope later this month, it was announced Friday.
Pope John Paul II set the meeting for June 25-26 to discuss efforts to legalize the church and recover its lost property, the Vatican said in a statement.
The 10 Ukrainian Catholic bishops living in the Soviet republic will be joined by the 18 Ukrainian prelates living in the West, said Rome-based Ukrainian Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky in a separate statement.
″This will be the first meeting between the pope of the universal church and the Ukrainian Catholic hierarchy from the Ukraine since the Ukrainian church was liquidated ...in 1946,″ Lubachivsky said.
The suppression was carried out by dictator Josef Stalin, who forced the Ukrainian Catholics to merge with the Russian Orthodox Church. Bishops and priests who resisted were shot or imprisoned.
According to Western estimates, there are 4 million to 6 million Catholics in the Ukraine. Until recently, they practiced their faith clandestinely but in the past few years many have emerged to worship openly and demand official recognition.
The Ukrainian issue was one of the topics discussed when Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev met with John Paul in December in the first visit of a Kremlim chief to the Vatican.
Gorbachev pledged enactment of a law guaranteeing freedom of conscience in the officially atheist country, which would pave the way for legalization of the Ukrainian church. The bill is slowly working its way through the Soviet legislature.
Since Gorbachev’s visit, the Ukrainians have regained many churches and the faithful have been registering with authorities parish by parish in anticipation of full legality.
Lubachivsky said the 10 Ukrainian bishops were all consecrated clandestinely. Only in the past two years have some of their names been made public.
Talks bringing together officials of the Vatican, the Ukrainian and the Orthodox churches broke down in March when Ukrainian leaders complained that Moscow was dragging its feet on the freedom of religion law. But the Ukrainians have said they are prepared to go back to the negotiating table.
The return of church property is a major stumbling block because the Orthodox stand to lose hundreds of churches they took over after 1946.
The Vatican statement, issued by papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro, said the Vatican hopes the meeting will ″contribute to the solution of still existing difficulties in the Ukraine.″
It referred to the Ukrainian Church as a ″meritorious″ church that has given ″heroic testimony of its Catholic faith in particularly difficult circumstances.″