by Timothy Elphick POPE John Paul II this week opened the first synod of the Ukrainian Catholic bishops for more than 40 years, to discuss the future of the Greek Catholic (Uniate) church and the return of property confiscated under Stalin.
The meeting in Rome began on Monday when the 10 Greek Catholic bishops still living in the Soviet Union's Ukrainian republic and 18 from the west spent the day in closed conference with the Pope. On the agenda was the likely position of the church after the introduction of a bill currently before the Soviet parliament to allow full freedom of religious worship.
Ukrainian Catholics, who number four million, were forcibly united with the Russian Orthodox church by Stalin in 1946. Their property was handed over to the Soviet authorities and many of the churches were taken by
Disputes over rights to buildings formerly owned by the Uniates have caused considerable tension between Greek Catholics and Orthodox in the Ukraine since the announcement last December that individual parishes could elect which church to join.
Pope John Paul spoke of.the role that the eastern-rite church of the Ukraine, and its sister church in Romania, could play in bridging the gap between the christian traditions of east and west at his weekly general audience last Wednesday. He said that the Uniates, who united with Rome in 1596 while preserving the eastern rite, would help "prepare the way for the unity for which Christ prayed".
The Pope has consistently avoided expressing too great an enthusiasm for the Uniate cause,fearing improved relations with Moscow might be damaged.