April 25, 1997

Page 10

By JOHN THAVIS Catholic News Service

Amid war's toll, a papal plea for peace

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina In a visit to this war-shattered city, Pope John Paul II beseeched rival ethnic groups to find forgiveness in their hearts and a peace that goes deeper than political accords. He began the visit April 12 with the cry, "Never again war! Never again hatred and intolerance" and repeated it before departing the city's shell-pocked airport 25 hours later.

A few hours before the pope arrived, police discovered and deactivated 23 mines and a radio-commanded detonator under a bridge along the papal motorcade route. At the airport, security officials advised the pope to enter the city by helicopter. But the pontiff decided to ride down "Sniper's Alley" in his popemobile, as planned, so people could see him. In the end, the pope's visit went off without incident.

The highlight of the visit was an outdoor Mass in Sarajevo's sports stadium, celebrated amid snow squalls and a bitter wind. The 50,000 in attendance heard the pope deliver an impassioned appeal for national reconciliation.

The Mass site was bordered on sides by cemeteries, where thousands of new white crosses marked the war's toll.

The pope urged a careful rebuilding of peace through "the patience of small steps" and the rejection of unbridled nationalism, the cause of so much sorrow."

In an encounter with the free members of Bosnia's ruling council, the pope said all Bosnian refugees must be guaranteed their right to recover their homes. Several hundred thousand are still displaced in postwar Bosnia.

Speaking to Catholic bishops, he cited their duty to preach mutual forgiveness of faults. But they must also unmask injustice and "defend with every legitimate means" their communities from anti-Catholic intimidation or attacks, he said. His words were an apparent reference to the bombing of several Catholic church buildings in recent weeks.

At a prayer service at the Sarajevo cathedral, the pope presented a votive lamp of peace that had burned in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican since early 1994, when Bosnian fighting raged.

He listened as Sarajevo Cardinal Vinko Puljic described the shrinking dimensions of the church in central Bosnia, where some two-thirds of the Catholic population has been displaced by the war. The pope encourage those who nave remained to rebuild their religious community. But he said Catholics should primarily be involved in rebuilding the larger society. They must be willing to reflect morally on their own past actions in "a profound examination of conscience" and to make "a decisive commitment to reconciliation and peace," he said.

Picture caption - Pope John Paul II kisses a Bosnian girl during an outdoor Mass at Sarajevo's Kosevo stadium April 13.