BY MURRAY WHITE
POPE JOHN PAUL II postponed his historic visit to former Yugoslavia at the last minute this week after fears for his life in the troubled region.
United Nations officials had warned the pontiff on the eve of his visit that he was seriously risking his life if he went ahead with the trip. UN security advisers were unable to give assurances that the Vatican entourage would be safe from terrorist attack, The decision came less than 48 hours before the Pope was due to depart for Bosnia and Croatia. The Vatican expressed it's "concern that the visit would add to tensions" after an renewed escalation in fighting.
One UN official said: "The Pope's life would be at risk and the lives of those around him Naould be at risk as well. If there was an incident, the balance and restraint that have characterised the inter
national community's involvement in the Bosnian war, would be sorely tested."
Particular fears had centred on the plans for John Paul II to celebrate an open-air Mass in Sarajevo at the site of the 1984 Olympic speed skating competition, which came under small-arms fire last weekend.
This is not the first time such a Papal visit had been held in the balance. In 1992, John Paul II's visit to Britain was almost cancelled because of the Falklands War.
Earlier in the week Catholic leaders in Bosnia and Croatia had urged the Pontiff to press ahead with his trip. Cardinal Franjo Kuharic of Zagreb said that the visit would be an occasion to strengthen prayers for peace in the troubled region.
Prayers were to be offered "so that the injustices suffered by people will be corrected," said the cardinal.
The timing of the Pope's visit was to coincide with the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of Zagreb.