The people of Ukraine are expecting a papal visit, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said in an interview.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk told the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that Pope Francis could visit the Eastern European country despite the obstacles posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Just as [the Pope] recently visited Iraq, just as he will be going to visit different countries in the world in spite of the difficulties presented by COVID, so Ukraine is expecting the Holy Father to visit,” he said.
John Paul II was the first pope of the modern era to visit the country, which borders Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia.
In his arrival speech in Kyiv (Kiev) on June 23, 2001, he noted that two early popes were deported to present-day Ukraine.
He said: “History has recorded the names of two Roman Pontiffs who, in the distant past, came this far: St. Clement I at the end of the first century and St. Martin I in the mid-seventh. They were deported to the Crimea, where they died as martyrs.”
During the five-day visit, the Polish pope sought to reach out to Orthodox Christians, who represent roughly two-thirds of the population.
Pope Francis’ March 5-8 visit to Iraq was his first foreign trip since the pandemic broke out. On the flight back to Rome, he confirmed that he would visit Budapest, Hungary, on Sept. 12 for the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress. He suggested that he might combine the trip with a visit to the Slovakian capital, Bratislava.
The 84-year-old pope told reporters that he had felt more tired during the Iraqi trip than on previous ones and did not know if his travel schedule would slow down in the future.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of possible papal trips to Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea in 2020, Francis kept up a busy travel schedule, making 32 international trips to 51 different countries in seven years.
Pope Francis has repeatedly appealed for peace in Ukraine, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have clashed in the east of the country since February 2014.
In his Regina Coeli address on April 18, he expressed alarm at a troop build-up on the border between the two countries.
“I follow with great concern the events in some areas of eastern Ukraine, where violations of the ceasefire have multiplied in recent months, and I observe with great concern the increase in military activities,” he said.
“I strongly hope an increase in tensions will be avoided, and, on the contrary, that gestures be made that are capable of promoting mutual trust and fostering reconciliation and peace, which are so much needed and so much desired.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that the Vatican would be the “ideal place” for peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the ACN interview, Shevchuk said he was grateful for Pope Francis’ prayers for Ukraine. He noted that the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal had invited the pope to the visit country during a March 25 audience at the Vatican.
The 50-year-old major archbishop said that the meeting was well received in Ukraine.