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Pope preaches in Ukraine's Catholic heartland

Pope John Paul preached to the faithful in western Ukraine's Catholic heartland yesterday, which until World War Two was part of the his native Poland.

Contrasting with a restrained reception in the largely Orthodox capital Kiev, the Pope arrived in Catholic Lviv late on Monday to find the city bedecked in blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and crowds jostling in the cobbled streets to welcome him.

"We are very pleased about the visit," said Ivan Yurchenko, an artist in his 30s. "This should be good for Ukraine."

After three days in Kiev, where the Pope on Monday paid silent tribute to thousands of Ukrainian Jews killed by the Nazis at Babi Yar in 1941, the Pontiff is to use the last days of his tour of Ukraine to hold two open air masses in Lviv.

A mere 40 miles from the Polish border, Lviv is the spiritual centre for Ukraine's six million Catholics and seat of its largest Catholic Church, the Greek Catholic Church. Josef Stalin turned the Church's property over to the Church in 1946, forcing priests and the faithful underground and leading to the persecution, imprisonment and even killing of those who continued to practice openly.

"The Pope's arrival in Lviv feels very exciting," said Fr Ken Nowakowski, a spokesman for Ukraine's Catholic Churches. "There's a bit of rain, but it hasn't dampened anyone's spirits."