St. John Paul Ii And Ukraine-Holy See Relations
With his canonization celebrated less than a month ago, this past May 18th, marked what would have been Pope St. John Paul II’s 94th birthday. Often characterized as Poland’s foremost ‘native son,’ John Paul II’s papacy bore deep significance for Ukrainians as well, who had a genuine advocate in the Pope from beyond the ‘Iron Curtain.’ “Pope John Paul II was definitely the most popular pontiff among Ukrainians,” stated Ms. Tetiana Izhevska, Ukrainian Ambassador to the Holy See. Ms. Izhevska participated in the April 27th canonization ceremony as a member of Ukraine’s official delegation, which was lead by Foreign Minister, Andriy Deshchytsia. While Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was present in Rome for an official meeting with Pope Francis that weekend, he was unable to stay for the canonization ceremony.
The Ambassador noted that John Paul II’s papacy was marked by a ‘significant improvement’ in Catholic-Orthodox relations – a theme that helped the Pontiff reach across the deep religious and cultural divisions among Ukraine’s Catholic and Orthodox communities. The late Pope’s broad appeal among Ukrainians was on full display during his June, 2001 Apostolic visit to the country – a moment that the ambassador fondly recalled as a “unique and unforgettable experience for hundreds of thousands of people,” who gathered in Kyiv and L’viv to pray with the Pope.
The Polish Pope was also an advocate of the Ukrainian national cause. Intellectual and papal biographer, George Weigel (author of A Witness to Hope and The End and the Beginning), stated that John Paul sympathized with Ukrainian national aspirations as they ran parallel to his own Polish patriotism. “For John Paul II,” Weigel noted, “both Ukrainian and Polish national identities grew from a recognition of historically-deep and rich cultural experiences that deserved respect.”
Concerning the Holy See’s response to the Maidan movement, the Ambassador stressed the Ukrainian government’s appreciation of the “wise and balanced position of the Holy See regarding these events” and added that she is grateful for Pope Francis’s continued prayers and gestures of “solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”
Brett McCaw is based in Washington, DC.