Pope John Paul II, in the sixth encyclical of his papacy, today praised the perseverance of Christians in the Soviet Union and appealed for closer ties with them through common devotion to the Virgin Mary.
In the 114-page document, the pontiff strongly reaffirmed the central role that Roman Catholics accord Mary and asserted that veneration of the mother of Jesus, often a sore point in ecumenical dialogue with Protestants, can be "an effective aid" in promoting Christian unity.
The Pope said veneration of Mary has "molded the faith, piety and prayer of the faithful" in the East, especially in Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia--now all part of the Soviet Union.
"Such a wealth of praise . . . could help us to hasten the day when the church can begin once more to breathe fully with her 'two lungs,' the East and the West," the Pope said.