Pope ends 100th foreign trip with prayer
in coastal Croatia
Mon Jun 9,
ZADAR, Croatia (AFP) - Pope John Paul (news - web sites) II wound up
a taxing five-day visit to Croatia, his 100th foreign trip, with an
open-air prayer in the coastal town of Zadar.
After the ceremony, Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Prime
Minister Ivica Racan saw the pontiff off and the pope arrived back
in Rome later in the afternoon.
Bells on Zadar churches rang as the pope arrived at the town
airport, where some 110,000 believers gathered to attend the prayer
at a square in the old town overlooking the sea.
Pilgrims had poured into the town since dawn, carrying little flags
saying "Viva papa." Many arrived in boats to hear the pope from the
"I was extremely happy during the past few days as I was watching
the Holy Father who, although a weak old man, is full of spiritual
strenght," said Terezija Pervan, a nun who arrived from nearby
island of Dugi Otok.
"All the messages the pope conveyed in Croatia were important, but I
would stress the one referring to reconciliation and forgiveness --
to forgive and to ask to be forgiven," she added.
Earlier in the visit, the pope called for reconciliation following
the 1991-95 Croatian war of independence from the former Yugoslavia,
which saw many atrocities.
The historical town of Zadar was shelled by Serb forces, who
occupied surrounding area during the war.
Under the entrance into the walled old city, a yellow banner reading
"Welcome Holy Father" was put just beside a giant photo of fugitive
retired general Ante Gotovina wanted by the UN war crimes court.
Below the photo, which was on the path that the pope was due to pass
in his popemobile, it read in big letters "Ante Gotovina -- hero,
not a war criminal."
Gotovina, who led the city defence during the war with the Serb
forces is a popular figure here and was proclaimed an honorary
citizen of Zadar.
The UN court indicted him of war crimes against ethnic Serbs during
a 1995 military operation that enabled Croatia to retake a
rebel-Serbs held region.
The 83-year-old pontiff, who appeared to be in good form despite
very high temperatures during his visit, also backed Croatia's bid
to join the European Union (news - web sites)
Upon his arrival Thurdsay he voiced hope that "this aspiration will
be happily realized."
Zagreb hopes to become a member of the EU in 2007, following the
accession next year of 10 mostly ex-Communist countries.
"I thanked the pope for having spoken in favour of Croatia's
accession to the European Union," Croatia's Prime Minister Ivica
Racan told journalists following a private audience Sunday.
The pope also stressed the importance of traditional family in a
Sunday Pentecost mass in the coastal town of Rijeka, which served as
a base during his third visit to predominantly Catholic country.
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