BY LUKE COPPEN AND KEVIN WEAVER
THE Poll brought a message of hope and reconciliation to the beleaguered Catholic population of Banja Lulea on Sunday.
During the 1990s' war many of town's 45,000 Catholics were expelled or fled the fighting, and fewer than 3,000 remain in what is now a Serb Orthodox stronghold.
Security was exceptionally tight. Before the Pope arrived, a bomb squad investigated a suspiciously parked vehicle along the motorcade route, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
Detective Sean McAllister, a British police officer serving as a special adviser on security and crowd control with the European Mission in Bosnia, said local police handled the occasion well.
He said: "To be fair, the Republika Srpska police did a very good job. It was their biggest job, but I visited most of the sites and the police did very well."
In his arrival remarks, broadcast live on national television, the 83-year-old Pontiff told Bosnians he greeted and embraced them all.
"I know the long ordeal you have endured, the burden of suffering which is daily a part of your lives, the temptations to discouragement and resignation which you experience," he said.
A peace deal in 1995 ended Bosnia-Herzegovina's 43-month war, but many refugees have yet to return, and those who do face poverty and unemployment. A NATO-led force of 13,000 soldiers is still posted in the country to keep an uneasy peace.
The Pope told Bosnians he stood by them "in asking the international cxemnunity, which already has done so much, to continue to he close to you and to help you to reach quickly a situation offal! security in justice and harmony".
But he reminded them that they themselves must be "the primary builders" of their future and that they should rely on the "tenacity of your character" and their rich cultural and religious traditions.
"Do not give up. Certainly starting afresh is not easy. It requires sacrifice and steadfastness; it requires knowing how to sow seeds and then to wait patiently," he said.
"The root of every good and, sadly, of every evil is in the depths of the heart. It is there that change must occur."
The main focus of the Pope's visit, his 101st nip abroad, was a beatification Mass for a Bosn
ian-born Croatian layman, Ivan Merz, a liturgical pioneer and lay activist. His beatification was originally scheduled for Croatia, where he worked and died, but Banja Luke's bishop persuaded the Pope that holding the ceremony locally would be a big morale boost for his diocese's Catholics, who suffered greatly in the 1990s' war.
Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka took up the theme of reconciliation in remarks to the Pope before the Mass. He said the local church forgave "the crimes committed by others, while seeking forgiveness for the crimes committed by members of the Catholic Church of present and past generations".
During the Mass, Bishop Komarica underscored the plight of the regional church, telling the Pope it "now finds itself almost completely eradicated". He laid the blame on the international community for doing too little to assist the return of tens of thousands of refugees.
"Please listen to the voice of one crying in the wilderness," the bishop said as his words were nearly drowned out by applause. "Do not forget us. Help us so that we can stand on our own feet again, as a society and as a Church."