Pope John Paul II preached against the evils of prejudice and nationalism to a throng of Poles and Ukrainians spread out Tuesday on a soggy racecourse in this city near the Polish border, calling on their two nations to put aside historical conflicts.
It was easily the biggest crowd yet on the pope's five-day pilgrimage to Ukraine, and the pontiff appeared strengthened by the sight of so many believers, estimated at up to 600,000. Later, the pontiff again drew multitudes at a meeting with youths, where perhaps 300,000 people sang out songs of welcome, undeterred by downpours.
The pope was greeted by sunny skies Tuesday morning as he mounted the huge white altar constructed in Lviv's Hippodrome racetrack for his main event of the day: a Latin Rite Mass and the beatification of two Lviv churchmen. A cool, fresh wind whipped the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags that flew on either side of the altar.
The crowd included thousands of pilgrims from neighboring Poland. They carried white-and-red Polish flags that flew alongside banners from Russia and Belarus welcoming the pope in signs written in both Latin and Cyrillic letters.
Poles and Ukrainians are Slavic people who have interacted on this territory of flat plains and rolling hills for most of the last 1,000 years.
In his homily, the pope alluded to injuries they have done to each other over the centuries in a checkered history that includes repressions by Polish landowners of Ukrainian serfs; a 17th century Cossack uprising against the Polish crown; partisan fighting between Polish and Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas during World War II; and, in recent years, spats over church property.
In addition to those wrongs against each other, members of both groups have been guilty of anti-Semitic acts. Until the Holocaust, Jews were a sizable minority in Lviv.
Noting "the infidelities to the Gospel of not a few Christians of both Polish and Ukrainian origin," the pope told his listeners that the time had come for a "purification of historical memories" that would lead to "the triumph of what unites over what divides."
"It is time to leave behind the sorrowful past," he said. "The Christians of the two nations must walk together in the name of the one Christ. . . . May pardon given and received spread like a healing balm to every heart. . . . Be united!"
Joining the Poles and Ukrainians, some groups of Catholics journeyed from Belarus and Siberia to see the pope, who is making a sort of homecoming to the historic region of Galicia, which encompasses the pope's former archdiocese of Krakow.
Ukraine's Greek Catholics observe Eastern Rite practices but are faithful to Rome. On Tuesday, the Mass used the Western rite of the Roman Catholic Church and was conducted in both Polish and Ukrainian. This morning, the pope plans to take part in a possibly even larger Greek rite celebration at the same place and to beatify 28 Greek Catholic believers, 27 of them martyrs.
There are 5 million Greek Catholic Ukrainians, compared with 1 million who use the Latin rites. But the majority of Ukraine's 50 million people are Orthodox Christians.
The pontiff's words about unity stirred the crowd, which responded with long applause when he exhorted its members to be united. Several people said afterward that it was the most important part of his message.
"This is a very burning issue because we all have to seek unity," said Andrij Khumka, 33, a carpenter from Lviv. A Greek Catholic, he said the Mass marked the first time he had attended a Latin Rite service. "The fact that the pope is a Slav is very symbolic. It is true that all Slavs should be friends and live like one big family."
At the Mass, the pope bestowed the title "blessed" upon two local Catholic churchmen, the World War I-era archbishop of Lviv, Jozef Bilczewski, and Father Zygmunt Gorazdowski, a priest born in 1845 who was known for his passion for helping the poor.
The pope offered various reminders of the Polish church's close ties to this region. He pointed out that Bilczewski had consecrated the bishop who consecrated the bishop who consecrated John Paul as a bishop.
In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, the young Karol Wojtyla was sent from Krakow with a group of fellow students to do military training near Lviv. A photograph from that time shows the future pope as a slight, bespectacled teenager standing awkwardly in uniform holding a rifle in his hand.
Tetyana Voloshynska, a 33-year-old cancer nurse from Kolomyja who comes from a mixed Catholic-Orthodox family, said the pope's main message to Ukrainians was "the unity of all the faithful. We have one God, and there should be one community of faithful."
Her family could be an example, she said. Her grandfather was Orthodox and her grandmother Catholic, and as a result, "we celebrated Catholic holidays and Orthodox ones also."