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Pope going to Ukraine with 'great hope'

John Paul II said he looks forward with "great hope" to his first visit to Ukraine this weekend, to confirm the country's Catholics in the faith and promote the ecumenical commitment with the Orthodox Church.

The five-day pilgrimage, which begins tomorrow, has sparked opposition on the part of Moscow's Orthodox Patriarchate, opposed to the rebirth of Eastern-rite Catholic communities in Ukraine, which Stalin forced without success to join the Orthodox Church.

The Holy Father said the 94th international trip of his pontificate is "a wish that I have carried in my heart for a long time."

He said at the end of Wednesday's general audience: "I thank the Lord for the opportunity he gives me to go in the footsteps of the missionaries who, sent by the Eastern and Western Churches at the end of the first millennium of the Christian era, proclaimed the Gospel in that part of Europe. Since then, the history of those peoples cannot be totally understood without reference to Christianity."

The Pope is expected to pray in Ukrainian during liturgies in Ukraine's capital Kyiv.

Archbishop Stanislaw Shyrokoradiuk of the Kyiv and Zhytomyr Catholic diocese, said almost everything was ready for the visit, except decorations at Kyiv's Chaika airfield, where the Holy Father will pray on Sunday and Monday.

Shyrokoradiuk complained of excessive police and security measures for the visit. "Ukraine's security measures pass all bounds and sometimes recall an emergency situation," he was quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Shyrokoradiuk cited a recent incident when police stopped a bus with Belarusian pilgrims and banned them from emerging for several hours while they conducted checks.