BY MURRAY WHITE
POPE JOHN PAUL II showed he still has fire in his soul even if he shows signs of physical frailty as he made impassioned pleas for peace during a historic visit to Croatia last weekend.
The Pontiff said that he came as a "pilgrim of reconciliation" to the former-Yugoslavia and called for forgiveness and tolerance among the region's warring ethnic factions.
The visit only lasted 24 hours and the 74-year-old John Paul H showed signs of fatigue throughout, indicating that he bas still not fully recovered after his fall last April. The accident resulted in reconstructive surgery to fix a broken right thigh bone.
In his first visit outside Italy in the past 12 months, John Paul appeared with black cane but firm voice as he admonished political leaders who continued to draw out the formerYugoslavia's war.
His traditional genuflection on the airport tarmac was replaced by two young people holding up a bowl of Croatian soil for him to kiss. He said during an outdoor Mass in the Croatian capital Zagreb, attended by more than 750,000 people, that religious belief must "return to be a unifying and beneficial force".
The Pontiff was forced to postpone a visit to the neighbouring troubled region of Bosnia last week after taking advice from United Nations security teams who feared an assassination attempt. He was due to celebrate Mass in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, whose Catholic inhabitants has to make do with a service relayed live from Rome. Earlier, Serbian Orthodox leaders had blocked a visit to the Serbian capital Belgrade, inferring that the Vatican's sympathies towards largely-Catholic Croatia meant the Pope's presence would offend Orthodox believers.
Questions have surrounded the Pope's health since he was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt at St Peter's in 1981 and after he underwent surgery to remove an intestinal tumour two years ago.
• A small group of Vatican officials attended a dawn Mass of Suffrage for the Pope in the Vatican last week after a rumour that he had died got out of hand, writes our Rome correspondent. The embarrassing service was an over-hasty reaction by the group of clergy and had to be stopped when word reached the celebrants that the Holy Father was already up and about. An unfortunate monk, who is thought to have misinterpreted a "hasty" early-morning arrival at the Vatican by a Polish prelate friend of the Pope, was called to order over the incident.