April 13, 1997

Pope urges Bosnian rivals to forgive

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II called for forgiveness and reconciliation Sunday during a snowy Mass in a city torn apart by religious hatred that sparked a bitter civil war.

Sunny skies gave way to bitter cold and snow Sunday, but neither the pope nor his congregation were deterred.

Thousands of pilgrims arrived at Kosevo Stadium by bus and on foot, along roads and through tunnels closed off during the war. On his way to the stadium, the pontiff passed by Sarajevo's cemeteries and soccer fields full of graves.

The pope left Sarajevo for Rome later Sunday. The pontiff went ahead with his 25-hour visit despite an apparent assassination threat uncovered shortly before his arrival.

Sarajevo, a symbol of the 20th century, pope says

Inside, the war-wounded waited to see him, and the standing crowds roared as he rode around the track before celebrating the 2-1/2 hour Mass.

Sarajevo has become of symbol of the 20th century, he said. From the beginning to the end, great wars have brought death and division.

The pope also questioned whether Europe had done enough to stop the latest conflict.

The pope's constant words of forgiveness, tolerance and unity reflect one of the Vatican's main concerns -- that while the Dayton peace accords have ended the war, they have not yet brought Bosnia's people together again. Instead, the Vatican fears the accords are solidifying the divisions made during the war.

The Vatican insists on a unified Bosnia, believing that the country's three ethnic groups -- Orthodox Christian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, and Roman Catholic Croats -- can co-exist in peace.

John Paul II reiterated that message Sunday morning to the three members of Bosnia's joint presidency. Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik joined the other two members of the presidency for the meeting, the pope's only chance to speak with a representative from the Bosnian Serbs.

Krajisnik declined to greet the pope at the Sarajevo airport on his arrival Saturday, citing security concerns. Ironically, the pope's planned 1994 visit to Sarajevo was scrapped because the besieging Bosnian Serbs would make no security guarantees for the visiting pontiff.

Senior International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report.

Related stories:

* Pope appeals to Bosnian leaders for peace - April 13, 1997 * In Bosnia, pope denounces 'inhuman logic of violence' - April 12, 1997 * Pope's visit brings hope to Sarajevo - April10, 1997