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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with additional reporting by Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni.
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Thousands of Ukrainians have commemorated as many as four anti-government protesters killed in recent clashes with police.
Sunday’s massive prayer service in the capital Kiev came just hours after opposition leaders rejected an offer by the president to lead an interim government, as protests spread throughout the country.
In Kiev, thousands of demonstrators tried to storm a convention center used as a police base by hundreds of security forces in Kyiv.
Demonstrators throw stones and smoke bombs. Police fire stun grenades and spray water in response.
The two-hour pre-dawn confrontation ended after opposition leader Vitaly Klitscko intervened, allowing the embattled security forces to leave the building.
Yet Klitschko, who is also a heavy-weight boxing champion, told the crowds that anti-government protests would continue in Kiev and other cities throughout the country.
“We are not stepping back. We are holding our positions on Maidan,” or Independence Square, “and in the regions,” he said, while demonstrators shouted in support.
The demonstrations came after he rejected an offer by the president to become vice-prime minister.
And, Fatherland Party leader Arseny Yatsenyuk announced he had refused to be the country’s prime minister.
“We are ready to take on the responsibility for the country’s future, but only under the conditions that will be set by us,” he told reporters.
Those conditions include early presidential elections as a vote is not due until 2015. The opposition also demands that a free trade agreement with the European Union be signed and political prisoners be freed, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Amid the standoff there was time for reflection.
As Pope Francis called on Sunday for an end to the violence, thousands participated in a prayer ceremony in Kyiv for several protesters who have been killed.
A coffin was carried bearing the body of one of them, Mykhailo Zhyznevsky, before his burial. The 25-year-old man was among those who died of gun shot wounds, though police have denied wrongdoing.
Pope Francis appealed for constructive dialogue between institutions and civil society in Ukraine and said he is “praying for the people of Ukraine, in particular for those who have lost their lives during the violence of the past days, and for their families.”
‘SPIRIT OF PEACE’
Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for what is known as the Angelus Prayer, the pontiff stressed that that he is praying the parties involved “will avoid resorting to violent actions, and that the spirit of peace and the quest for common good may prevail.”
He reflected on ow Jesus began his public life in Galilee – a land of borders and of transit, a peripheral region where men of different races, cultures and religions met. Francis said hat Galilee is similar to the troubled world today. “Jesus teaches us that the Good News that he brings is for all – not just for part of humanity” he said.
The church leader said “the Lord continues to walk the streets of our daily life calling us to go join Him and to work with Him for God’s Reign, in the ‘Galilee’ of our times”. “Each one you”- he explained – ““must realize that the Lord is watching you: if you hear Him saying ‘follow me’, you must have courage and go with Him. The Lord will never disappoint you”.
Pope Francis noted that there were many children in the Square and said besides Ukraine his thoughts also go to a three-year child, burnt to death by members of the Southern Italian Calabria mafia after his grandfather failed to pay a drug debt to mobsters. This violence against such a young child – he said – seems not to have precedents in the history of criminality. “Let’s pray for Cocò” – Francis continued – “who is surely in heaven with Jesus, and for those who have committed this crime: may they repent and convert to the Lord”.