Associated Press

April 9, 1997

Pope Lauds Sarajevo Trip

VATICAN CITY -- Calling Sarajevo ``a sad symbol'' of Europe's tragedies, Pope John Paul II said Wednesday that his weekend visit to the Bosnian capital will be a ``voyage of peace.''

In Sarajevo, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders welcomed the papal visit during a religious round-table meeting. Muslim leaders did not attend.

The gesture will do little to ease tensions in the city, where explosions have damaged five Catholic churches, a Franciscan monastery and three mosques in the past month.

The pope said he is going to Sarajevo to acknowledged the faith of residents of a city ``that has become, in a certain sense, a sad symbol of the tragedies which have struck Europe in the 20th century.''

The trip is a ``voyage of peace, in which the solidarity of the church with mankind and suffering peoples is witness,'' he said in a meeting with Croatian pilgrims.

The pontiff plans a Mass at a stadium and meetings with political leaders during the 24-hour visit Saturday and Sunday.

Participants in the Sarajevo round-table hailed his trip as a gesture that could strengthen hopes for peace.

They were clearly dismayed at the Muslim absence.

A spokesman for Muslims in Sarajevo, Husein Smajkic, said he and all other senior Muslim leaders were on business trips and unable to attend the session organized by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe.


Associated Press on CNN web site

April 1997

Pope's visit brings hope to Sarajevo

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -The visit this weekend of Pope John Paul II is eagerly awaited in this war-torn city as a sign of hope and promise for a better future.

Most Bosnian refugees still abroad are Muslims and Croats who cannot go home to Serb-held territory. Another 900,000 Muslims, Croats and Serbs are displaced within Bosnia.

But even when safe in their own ethnic enclaves, few people have the means to repair homes. Jobs are scarce, and meager reserves are dissipating. Sarajevo gets the most aid, but 70 percent of its 350,000 inhabitants have no work and, psychologists say, may suffer mental effects of the war.

"At the least, the pope will lift our spirits and bring some hope," said Nihad Vrago, 35, a Muslim who lost his house and fortune, and is starting over with a small restaurant.

Related story: * Croats and Muslims settle on police for divided city


Associated Press

April 4, 1997

Sarajevo Awaits Papal Visit

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Undaunted by cold rain, workers started building an altar Friday for Pope John Paul II to hold mass in Sarajevo's soccer stadium.

The pontiff was to have come to Sarajevo in September 1994, when the city was under siege by Bosnian Serb forces. He was forced to cancel that trip, lending extra anticipation to next week's April 12-13 visit.

Sarajevo was hurriedly repairing the war-damaged Kosevo soccer stadium, which was located just hundreds of yards from the front line during the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war. John Paul's mass here is expected to be the largest gathering in the city since the 1984 Winter Olympics.

The city also is spending $2.4 million to spruce up parks, city streets, traffic lights, parking lots and press facilities, said the city official in charge, Mithat Haracic.

Hundreds of journalists and tens of thousands of the faithful are expected to descend on Sarajevo during the papal visit, especially for the stadium Mass before an anticipated 50,000 people early on April 13.

The movement of the pilgrims through areas of Bosnia controlled by different ethnic groups poses a huge security headache for the NATO-led peace force, unarmed U.N. international police and local police forces. Recent unsolved explosions at Roman Catholic churches have also increased security concerns.

Medical facilities are being put in place for the frail 76-year-old pontiff and the flood of visitors. Three ambulances will be at the airport when the pope lands, and three more will be stationed at the stadium, along with a NATO medical helicopter, said medical official Drazenka Rados.

Already, Bosnia's impoverished government has had trouble paying for the pope's visit. Organizers barely scraped up the money for a sound system for the Mass, and don't have enough for a giant video screen, Haracic said.

``We are a poor country,'' he told journalists. ``You should not expect any luxury ... just a bare minimum.''

Organizers are also seeking an appropriate but financially viable way to honor the pope, revered by many here for his support for a united Bosnia.

The pontiff likely will plant a tree of peace in the city center and receive the keys and honorary citizenship of Sarajevo, said Ivica Mrsic, a spokesman for the Bosnian Foreign Ministry.