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JOHN PAUL MAY VISIT SOVIET UNION

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Pope John Paul II and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed at a historic meeting Friday to give "official status to our interstate relations" and discussed a possible visit by the pope to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev met with the pontiff for 1 1/4 hours in a landmark encounter that symbolized the end of 72 years of hostility between the Soviet Union and the Roman Catholic Church. It was the first meeting between a Soviet leader and the pope.The Soviet leader, in an impromptu sentence added at the end of his formal speech said, "We also spoke of a visit in the future of the pope to the Soviet Union." The Soviet leader did not elaborate on what appeared to have been an invitation to the pope to visit the Soviet Union, and the Vatican had no comment.

However, the established Vatican position is the pope will not visit the Soviet Union until the situation of millions of Catholics, currently subject to various restrictions, is improved.

In his address, John Paul referred to the "painful trials" that Soviet believers suffered in past decades. He issued a strong call for religious freedom for all believers that included a reference to the Ukrainian Catholic Church that had been suppressed by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"On their behalf - whether they be of the Latin, Byzantine or Armenian Rite - I express the fervent hope that they be able to practice freely their religious life," the pope said.

He also said the Holy See was following with interest Gorbachev's efforts to renew society and promised support for "every initiative" to protect the rights of people and help ensure peace.

"We have reached agreement in principle to give official status to our interstate relations," Gorbachev said. "As for the modalities, they will be determined by our diplomatic officials."

Gorbachev's reference to "official status" between the Vatican and the Soviet Union did not imply the establishment of full diplomatic relations is imminent. The official relations could take the form of a special government official in the Soviet embassy to Italy responsible for "permanent working contacts" with the Vatican. This was the formula adopted for many years between the Vatican and Poland before they established full diplomatic relations earlier this year.

Gorbachev and the pope were smiling and appeared pleased with the outcome of their private talks.

They conversed in Russian, with no interpreters or other officials present in the room. The pope was dressed in a gleaming white cassock with a white skull-cap on his head. Gorbachev wore a pin-striped suit.

Then Raisa Gorbachev, in her long-skirted red suit, surprisingly joined her husband, who introduced her to the pope. She wore no hat or scarf over her short-cut russet hair - a very unusual departure from the established practice that women should have their heads covered in the Vatican.

Gorbachev and Raisa chatted with the pope a few minutes, after which a dozen members of Gorbachev's official party, including Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli and other Vatican officials were ushered in.

"A truly extraordinary event has taken place," Gorbachev said in his speech. "It has become possible due to the profound changes that are sweeping many countries and nations. What is more, we can expect it to help assure their positive continuation.

He also responded to the pope's concerns: "People of many confessions, including Christians, Moslems, Jews, Buddhists and others live in the Soviet Union. All of them have a right to satisfy their spiritual needs," Gorbachev said, speaking in Russian. He said a freedom of conscience law would soon be adopted.

In the Soviet Union, Ukrainian officials cleared the way for legalizing the banned Ukrainian Catholic Church by permitting worshipers to register with authorities like members of other faiths, the republic's top religious official said Friday.

Nikolai Kolesnik, chairman of the Soviet republic's Council on Religious Affairs, said it was possible the Ukrainian Catholic church's hierarchy could also be restored. "After a period of registration, the question of the church itself can be raised," said Kolesnik, speaking from Kiev.