Is the Pope Rusyn?
Question from Kay Pjatak on 08-16-2003:

Would you know whether or not the Pope's mother was Rusyn? On the Rusyn mailing list to which I subscribe, there has been some discussion about this subject.

Answer by Anthony Dragani on 08-18-2003:

Kay,

I've heard all sorts of stories about this very subject. It can be hard to sort out the fact from the fiction. Although I do not know all of the details, it appears that the Pope's mother may have been Rusyn. Here's a story from the The Ukrainian Weekly:

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The pontiff's Ukrainian roots

July 1, 2001, No. 26, Vol. LXIX

by Roman Woronowycz Kyiv Press Bureau

KYIV - Although it seems to be one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Vatican, the head of the Vatican's press service admitted in very convoluted language on June 24 that indeed Pope John Paul II has Ukrainian blood on his mother's side.

During a press conference the holy father's press secretary, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told hundreds of reporters that one of the reasons the pope placed special significance on his trip to Ukraine was because he has roots here.

"I believe that there is a reason, and it is the biological element of his biography," explained Mr. Navarro-Valls somewhat obtusely.

But his statement, along with assertions by other sources, makes the matter clear: the pope's mother was Ukrainian and that makes him at least partly so.

Emilia Kacharovska, the mother of Karol Wojtyla Jr., who would become Pope John Paul II in 1978, was born in a village outside of Drohobych. During the tsarist effort to rid Ukraine of the "Uniate" element in Ukraine, that is the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, the Kacharovskys moved into the Krakow area, according to materials released by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church's press service. In time, the Kacharovsky clan, which had spoken both Ukrainian and Polish, became completely Polonized.

In Krakow, Emilia met Karol Wojtyla Sr., and they were married. In 1920 the future pope was born. At the age of 8 young Karol lost his mother, when she died of heart problems.

The holy father has never denied his Ukrainian roots, although he refers to his mother as a Rusyn rather than a Ukrainian. The Ukrainian government news organ, Uriadovyi Kurier, in a June 23 story claimed that Pope John Paul II made such an assertion at Harvard University in a speech he gave at the Ukrainian Research Institute. The newspaper did not mention the date of the speech but cited a book by Prof. Isidore Nahaievsky as the source of the information.



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