"Many Croatian Serbs believe that Catholic clergy condoned the forced conversion or execution of hundreds of thousands of Eastern Orthodox Serbs, Jews and Gypsies under the country's pro-Nazi regime in World War II."

September 9, 1994

The Associated Press

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) -- Croatia's capital will almost grind to a halt for a visit by Pope John Paul II, who has been criticized by Serbs who feel he is meddling on the side of Roman Catholics in former Yugoslavia's ethnic wars.

Though security concerns prompted the pontiff to scrub a trip to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, he decided to go ahead with a two-day visit to Zagreb starting Saturday. The nearest battlefront is just 60 miles away, where Serbs and Muslims are fighting over a pocket of land in northwest Bosnia. Top clergy in Croatia, which is nearly 70 percent Roman Catholic, have condemned wrongdoing on both sides in the republic's 1991 civil war with the Serbs, who are predominantly Eastern Orthodox.

But bad feelings bubble just under the surface. Serb leaders in Bosnia frequently have accused the Vatican of siding with Bosnia's predominantly Roman Catholic Croats in the conflict, and warned the pope they could not guarantee his safety for the aborted Sarajevo visit.

Many Croatian Serbs believe that [Roman] Catholic clergy condoned the forced conversion or execution of hundreds of thousands of Eastern Orthodox Serbs, Jews and Gypsies under the country's pro-Nazi regime in World War II.

In Croatia, the official prayer and hymn book handed out to the Roman Catholic faithful says: "The Croatian Catholic church is targeted by Serbian aggression, which in its barbaric attacks conquered one-third of Croatia."

Posters of destruction in parts of Croatia line walls of the papal visit's organizing committee office, proclaiming "Help Croatia Now." One shows a large church crucifix with the body of Jesus Christ riddled with bullets. "The pope is with you," proclaims a poster of the pontiff that's been plastered up throughout Zagreb.

The pope's trip coincides with a surge in Muslim-Serb fighting in the Bihac pocket in Bosnia's northwest corner, bordering Croatia. Some Croatian Serbs have crossed the border to help their Bosnian ethnic brethren.

"The spiral of 'wrongs' and 'punishments' will never stop if forgiveness does not come at a certain point. ... If memory is the law of history, forgiveness is the power of God," the pope said Thursday.

The pope is expected to avoid making public comments that could show favoritism. But there is widespread speculation he will visit the burial site of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who is reviled as a Nazi sympathizer by many Serbs but revered by Catholic Croats.

Authorities will virtually halt traffic from Saturday morning until the pontiff returns to Rome on Sunday evening. Hundreds of policemen are patrolling the streets of the Croatian capital, and the hundreds of thousands of worshipers expected at an open-air Mass on Sunday will undergo thorough searches. Journalists are being subjected to rigorous police scrutiny of their backgrounds. In a goodwill gesture tied to the visit, President Franjo Tudjman granted pardons to or shortened the sentences of 88 prisoners. It was not clear if they were common criminals or were convicted of crimes linked to the civil wars in Croatia or Bosnia.


September 9, 1994

The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope John Paul II hasn't turned his back on Bosnia and will, someday, go to Sarajevo, the Vatican insisted amid criticism of the decision to cancel a papal visit to the besieged city.

"The pope has not given up. He will go to Sarajevo," said the Rev. Pasquale Borgomeo, director-general of Vatican Radio. Cancellation of the trip, which had been scheduled for Thursday, was a morale blow to the city ravaged by 29 months of war.

Church and political leaders in Bosnia accused the United Nations of sabotaging the trip by issuing dire statements about security concerns. Some clergymen also accused U.N. peacekeepers of knuckling under to threats from the Orthodox Christian Bosnian Serbs, who have shelled Sarajevo from hills outside the city.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and some Orthodox church leaders had warned that the pope would be placing himself in peril in Sarajevo. "The trip was not called off because of security reasons, because in Sarajevo there is no security. ... Maybe the United Nations had been too sensitive to the protests of the Orthodox Church," said the auxiliary bishop of Sarajevo, Pero Juber.

On Wednesday, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic criticized the U.N. special envoy in the former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, for detailing all possible safety concerns in a letter to the Vatican. Izetbegovic said the letter "turned an abstract danger into a concrete one."

The United Nations countered that Akashi only provided facts and left the final decision to the Vatican. "It is our job to be candid and frank," chief U.N. spokesman Joe Sills said in New York on Thursday. "I do not believe the United Nations misrepresented the situation."

September 8, 1994

The Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- Tearful and angry faithful gathered at Sarajevo's cathedral Thursday for a Mass left hollow by the absence of the pope, as John Paul II, grounded in Italy by security fears, called on Serbs, Croats and Muslims to forgive.

Yet in northern Bosnia, another group of traumatized Muslims were driven out of their homes after what they described as a 2-year reign of Serb terror. More than 700 exhausted refugees arrived late Thursday from the Serb-held areas of Janja and Bijeljina into Tuzla, a town held by the Muslim-led government.

Hours earlier, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic had promised a U.N. envoy that the expulsions of non-Serbs would stop. The Vatican this week called off a one-day visit planned for Thursday, saying the pope feared for the safety of the crowds that would have turned out to see him. There also were worries his pilgrimage could aggravate tensions in the besieged city. The pope addressed the people of Sarajevo on radio and television, delivering the same sermon he had planned to give in the Bosnian capital. "The spiral of 'wrongs' and 'punishments' will never stop if forgiveness does not come at a certain point," he said. "To forgive does not mean to forget. If memory is the law of history, forgiveness is the power of God."

Matilda Sagolj said she cried when she heard the pope's words in Serbo-Croatian, broadcast from the courtyard of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome. "I am sorry, I am so sorry," she said, breaking into tears again. "His arrival meant almost everything to me, and now I feel terrible."

A papal envoy, Monsignor Francesco Monterisi, said in Sarajevo that the pope still hoped to visit "in one of the next few days, in the near-future." But with security still a nightmare, it was unclear what would make the pontiff change his mind. Sarajevo has been under Serb siege since April 1992, when Bosnia's Serb minority rebelled against a decision by the republic's Muslims and Croats to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

In the weeks preceding the pope's planned visit, shelling and gunfire around the capital intensified. As if to underscore the danger, U.N. planes approaching Sarajevo airport were fired upon Thursday, and two British NATO warplanes in northwestern Bosnia were targeted by surface-to-air missiles that U.N. officials said were fired by Serbs. None of the planes were hit. U.N. officials said the British jets were monitoring increased fighting between Serb and Muslim-led government forces in the region, where hundreds of Serbs have crossed over from neighboring Croatia.

But NATO spokesmen in Naples, Italy, said the warplanes were on a training mission. In Tuzla, most of the arriving refugees were too frightened to talk publicly, saying a local Serb commander, Vojkan Djurkovic, had threatened to slaughter remaining Muslims if he was branded a war criminal.

"I was not allowed to leave my back yard for two years," said one woman, too terrified to give her name. "They cursed us constantly. They beat us and spat upon us. I can't tell you all of it otherwise the Serbs will kill those who remain."

There were more than 30,000 non-Serbs around Janja and Bijeljina before the war. Thousands have been driven out since the wave of expulsions began in mid-July. Estimates on how many non-Serbs remain range from hundreds to 3,000. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees fears the rest may be expelled within the next week or so, despite international condemnation.

Meanwhile, Sarajevans of all faiths, who had looked forward to the pope's visit as affirmation that they had not been forgotten by the world after 29 months of war, were angry over its cancellation. Most of their wrath was directed at the Serbs, who had said they could not guarantee the pope's safety, and the United Nations, whose security concerns contributed to the cancellation.

Some Bosnian Serb leaders feared any violence during the trip would be blamed on the Serbs. "Foes and the international community prevented his pilgrimage, but we will ... remain strong in our hopes," said Nada Coric, among the 500 people crowding the cathedral Thursday for a celebration of the birth of the Virgin Mary. Outside, small statues of Mary were for sale, and a group of Italian pilgrims sang and danced.

Archbishop Vinko Puljic, co-celebrant of the Mass, alluded to the pope's absence and the pain it had caused. "We are begging the powerful ones ... who prevented the Holy Father's visit ... don't allow the evil to spread further," he told worshipers. "Stop the evil so we could live like human beings."

Saying he was praying to God as the first Slavic pope, the Polish pontiff called for forgiveness on all sides in the conflict in former Yugoslavia, and offered a spiritual embrace to the city's Serbs and a wish of peace to Orthodox hierarchy.

Orthodox Serbs have accused the Catholic church of siding with predominantly Roman Catholic Croatia and Bosnian Croats in their wars against rebel Serbs.

On Saturday, the pope leaves for a two-day visit to Zagreb, Croatia's capital. That city became the only stop in the pope's pilgrimage to former Yugoslavia after the Sarajevo trip was scratched and the Vatican reportedly met with resistance from Orthodox Serbs to a stop in Serbia's capital, Belgrade.