Ukraine’s Catholic leader invites Pope to visit and help bring peace

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The leader of Ukraine’s Eastern-rite Catholics said he has invited Pope Francis to visit the country, calling it a huge gesture that would help being peace at a time of tension with Russia.

Speaking to reporters in a video conference from Kyiv, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said there was no need to wait for conditions to be ideal and the visit could take place even in the current circumstances.

“We have several times expressed the desire that the Holy Father visit Ukraine. We have invited him and repeated it often,” Shevchuk said. “We are hopeful. Gestures are very important and visiting Ukraine would be a very strong gesture for all of humanity.”

Ukraine is predominately Orthodox but about 10% of the population belong to the Eastern, or Byzantine-rite, Catholic Church, whose followers are in allegiance with Rome.

Russia has massed troops near Ukraine but denies planning an attack.

“There is a consensus in Ukraine, not just among Catholics but also among Orthodox and even non-believers, that Pope Francis is the most important moral authority in the world today,” Shevchuk said in Italian.

“The people say that if the pope comes to Ukraine the war will end. They see the gesture of a papal visit as one of a messenger of peace.”

On Jan. 26, Francis led an international day of prayer for peace in Ukraine, calling for dialogue to prevail over partisan interests.

To visit Ukraine, the pope would have to be invited by the government and religious authorities. Russia and its Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Kremlin, would be unlikely to welcome such a visit.

It could also complicate matters for the pope as he tries to improve relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Plans are underway for a second meeting between the pontiff and Russian Patriarch Kirill. Their meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first between a pope and a Russian patriarch since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in

A file photo of Pope Francis (R) and Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk (L) attending a mass during his visit to Basilica of Santa Sofia in Rome, Italy, 28 January 2018. EPA-EFE/CLAUDIO PERI

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