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John Paul II passed away 17 years ago

During the last few days of the Pope’s life, the eyes of the world were focused on Vatican City, with millions of people following the news about his condition. After a long struggle with illness, John Paul II passed away on April 2, 2005. Today, on the 17th anniversary of his passing, when the whole world is following the events in war-torn Ukraine, we recall the Pope’s 2001 visit to this country.

Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected as the Pope on October 16, 1978, as the 264th head of the Roman-Catholic church in history. He was the first non-Italian Pope for 455 years and the first one originating from a Slavic country. His tireless efforts to travel the world and meet with people face-to-face earned him the title of pope-pilgrim. As many as 104 times he travelled to different countries on all of the inhabited continents of the Earth. Among his destinations was Ukraine, which is currently struggling during the 38th day of the Russian invasion.

John Paul II was the first head of the Catholic Church to travel to Ukraine with an official visit, which took place on 23–26 June 2001. This was also the first papal visit to the Russian Orthodox Church’s “canonical territory.” During the 5-day-long pilgrimage, the Pope went to Kyiv and Lviv, where he met with the members of both the Latin and Greek Catholic Church.

The Holy Father came to us as an apostle of peace and reconciliation,” said Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki, former secretary of John Paul II and current Deputy President of the Ukrainian Episcopal Conference and Archbishop of Lviv, who recalled the papal visit to Ukraine in a conversation with the Polish Press Agency (PAP). The Pope thanked the faithful for preserving their faith during the difficult communist period and for passing it onto their children and grandchildren, said Archbishop Mokrzycki.

The 2001 papal visit and the Pope’s inspiring words resulted in the dynamic growth of the Roman-Catholic Church in Ukraine, stated Archbishop Mokrzycki, adding that while only 6 priests worked at the Lviv archdiocese and 8 churches operated there in 1991, today it is 160 priests and 300 churches. The Archbishop of Lviv explained that John Paul II’s visit gave the Ukrainians hope for the future, because it confirmed Ukraine’s status as an independent country, which at the time had existed for less than a decade (since the 1991 declaration of independence).

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