"We've all been waiting for this since the communist era," said 44-year-old Zagreb architect Darko Manestar. "We're very thankful to the pope because he officially recognized Croatia two days before the European Community did." -END QUOTE- ===================================
AP 10 Sep 94 12:30 EDT V0647 The Associated Press
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) -- Pope John Paul II made his first venture into the maelstrom of former Yugoslavia, coming to Zagreb to celebrate Mass and meet with Croatian officials intent on reaping political gains from the visit. To underscore lingering dangers, the Croatian government sent two warplanes to escort the pontiff's Alitalia jetliner to the Zagreb airport, where it landed late Saturday afternoon. Croatia is still chafing at the loss of one-third of its territory to Serbs during its civil war in 1991, and wants the pontiff's visit to focus attention on the country's plight. "We've all been waiting for this since the communist era," said 44-year-old Zagreb architect Darko Manestar. "We're very thankful to the pope because he officially recognized Croatia two days before the European Community did." The recognition by the Vatican and the European Community, as the European Union was then known, was important to establish Croatia's full independence. The two-day visit to Zagreb, including a Mass before several hundred thousand people scheduled for Sunday morning at a horse racing track, is the pontiff's first trip to former Yugoslavia. Fighting in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, forced him to cancel a stop there. Bosnian Serb leaders opposed the visit, and said they could not guarantee his security. The Serbian Orthodox Church also blocked the stop the pope had hoped to make in Belgrade, the capital of former Yugoslavia. Private cars were banned from Zagreb streets because of security concerns, and the city had the air of a sun-baked outdoor bazaar in the hours before the pontiff's arrival. Thousands of pilgrims headed toward the Zagreb cathedral, clutching yellow-and-white Vatican flags along with red-white-and-blue Croatian flags. Croatia, nearly 70 percent Roman Catholic, will be looking for political symbolism at every turn of the pontiff's stay. One crucial stop will be at the majestic cathedral, where the pope is expected to pray at the tomb of Zagreb Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. The World War II-era cardinal is revered as an anti-communist by Croatians, but condemned as a Nazi sympathizer by many Serbs. Croatia President Franjo Tudjman said Wednesday the papal visit would give "moral support" to his country's struggle to regain territory seized by the country's minority Serbs in the 1991 civil war. Jure Radic, Tudjman's chief of Cabinet, told Croatian television Friday that the "eyes of the world" will be directed "to the events in Croatia, to all that happened to Croatia in the last three years and to the injustice which is still being done to Croatia."