LVIV, Ukraine (AP) _ About a million cheering and singing believers welcomed Pope John Paul II at an open-air Mass on Wednesday, the last day of his Ukrainian visit aimed at bringing the Catholics and Orthodox closer together.
The Lviv Hippodrome was a sea of small Ukrainian and Vatican flags as people raised their hands in greeting John Paul's popemobile making its way slowly to a specially constructed podium.
``You are a million,'' a priest told the crowd before the pope arrived. Later, organizers gave an even higher figure, saying up to 1.5 million believers came.
``The visit is a historic event for us,'' said Marta Baidyian, 16, of Stryi in the western Lviv region. ``I'm here to see the Holy Father and this happens once in a lifetime.''
Many in the enormous crowd booed and whistled in disapproval when Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma also appeared on the podium. Kuchma's main support base is in the industrial central and eastern regions and he draws much less respect in the largely nationalist west.
Western Ukraine also is the stronghold of Ukrainian Catholics, most of them so-called Greek Catholics who practice Orthodox ritual but bear allegiance to the pope. Greek Catholic believers faced persecution under both Russian imperial and Soviet rule, and the first papal trip to Ukraine pays tribute to their suffering.
John Paul beatified 28 Greek Catholics on Wednesday, including 27 martyrs, most of whom were killed by Soviet secret police. Church officials said several died horrible deaths, including Father Yakum (Senkivskyi) who was boiled in a cauldron in 1941 while in a Soviet prison.
The pope's homily at the Eastern Rite Mass in Lviv was an impassioned lesson on Christian martyrdom and a call to unity between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. John Paul's attempt to heal the schism that has divided Christianity for nearly a millennium has been the main theme of his Ukrainian trip.
``Together with them, (Catholics,) Christians of other confessions were also persecuted and killed on account of Christ. Their joint martyrdom is a pressing call to reconciliation and unity,'' he said.
``During the last centuries, too many stereotypic ways of thinking, too much mutual resentment and too much intolerance have accumulated,'' the pope said. ``The only way to clear the path is to forget the past, ask forgiveness of one another and forgive one another for the wounds inflicted and received.''
But despite John Paul's efforts, Ukraine's largest, Moscow-linked Orthodox church as well as Russian Orthodox Church leaders refuse to meet with the pope, pointing to bitter church property and other disputes between the Orthodox and Catholics in Ukraine.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II warned repeatedly that the pope's visit would bring further religious rifts to the country. Yet those at the Mass flatly dismissed such statements.
``This can only bring peace and accord to Ukraine,'' said Yaroslav Medynskyi, from the Lviv region town of Zolotiv. ``The pope brings harmony, otherwise there would not have been so many people here.''
Nadiia Prokhiv, a kindergarten administrator, insisted that John Paul's visit ``will not bring any difficulties. Instead, people are very happy that he came.''
Reception for the frail 81-year-old pontiff was cool in the capital Kiev, largely controlled by the Moscow-linked Orthodox, and crowds were thin at his Masses. In Lviv, near his native Poland, the pope drew huge crowds including tens of thousands of Polish pilgrims.
During the service, Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, speaking from the papal altar, issued a dramatic apology for ``certain sons and daughters of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church (who) consciously and voluntarily did evil things to their neighbors, both to their own people and to others'' during the past century.
Aides of the cardinal insisted that the statement, which mentioned ``moments of darkness and spiritual tragedy,'' was not referring specifically to a particular period, such as the Nazi occupation or the four decades of Communist rule that followed.
As Husar walked to the altar at the head of a procession of his own bishops and Vatican cardinals, the crowd began chanting ``patriarch, patriarch.''
The title of patriarch is generally held by leaders of eastern churches, but the Vatican has refused to grant it to Husar or his immediate predecessors to avoid further irritating the Orthodox.
The last day of the pope's five-day trip was to be concluded with a farewell ceremony at Lviv's medieval St. George's Cathedral and a departure address at the Lviv airport in the evening.