BY CHRISTINA WHITE
POPE JOHN PAUL II came to Sarajevo last weekend and preached a message of peace and reconciliation. He greeted the crowds with the words: "Never again war! Never again hatred and intolerance!" But the trip, which he described as a "spiritual pilgrimage," was overshadowed by the discovery of explosives on the papal motorcade route.
Just hours before the Pope's arrival in Sarajevo, MuslimCroat Federation police removed 23 anti-tank mines concealed beneath a bridge along which the Pope's motorcade was due to pass. Early reports that the mines were "left over" from the war were discounted and a spokesman for the UN said this week that it was "worrying" that Bosnian police had failed to find the explosives.
Security officials, concerned for the Pope's safety, advised him to enter the city by helicopter but he insisted on travelling the agreed motorcade route down "Sniper's Alley" so that people could see him.
Vatican officials confirmed that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic had offered to stand at the Pope's side if it would help security. The President was thanked for his gesture which was declined.
Security for the visit was already extremely tight. Preceding weeks had seen arson attacks on Catholic churches in Bosnia and a death threat against the Pope if he "dared" to come to the capital. Vatican officials regarded the trip as a test of the fragile peace accords in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "If it works, if people are allowed to travel freely, it will help confirm the Dayton Accords and the future of peace. If just a few buses get through, it will be a plus," said one Vatican spokesman. In the event more than 50,000 pilgrims made the journey to Sarajevo for the focal point of the visit an open air Mass on Sunday morning at the Kosevo stadium. Travelling from Mostar in the South, from Gorazde in the East and Banja Luke in the North, they braved biting cold and a sudden snow storm for the two and a half hour liturgy. The Pontiff delivered an impassioned plea for reconciliation. "The peace that Jesus gives to his disciples is not the peace imposed by conquerors on the conquered, by the stronger on the weaker. It does not receive its legitimacy by force of arms but, on the contrary, is born of love," he said.
The Pope avoided explicit references to the Dayton Accords, which many Bosnians regard as tacit approval of ethnic cleansing, but he urged the rebuilding of peace through "the patience of small steps" and called for the rejection of "unbridled nationalism, the cause of so much sorrow". Speaking in Croatian he asked the people of Bosnia to forgive the honors of the war. "Let us forgive and ask for forgiveness," he said.
Whilst the trip was highlighted as a pastoral pilgrimage the political implications were evident throughout. The Pope wants to see a multiethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina but many Bosnian Catholics favour a return to Croatia. Before his departure on Sunday, he met with political leaders and representatives of Bosnia's Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish communities where the call for peace was renewed.
Chief peace envoy to Bosnia, Mr Carl Bildt, summed up the visit. "He uses words that are not very common here. He talks about forgiveness, about reconciliation and about living together...forgiveness is one of the most seldom used words in this country."