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Sunday, September 19, 1999 Published at 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK

World: Europe

Pope calls for Balkan harmony

The Pope was welcomed by President Milan Kucan

By Olenka Lawrence in Maribor

Pope John Paul II, on a brief visit to the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia, has warned of the dangers of extreme nationalism in the Balkans.

Pointing out that it is possible for sincere patriots to live in harmony with other nationalities, he prayed for the victims of atrocities carried out by totalitarian regimes.

The Pope was addressing pilgrims at a ceremony to beatify a 19th century Slovene bishop, Anton Martin Slomsek.

Enthusiastic response

The Pope celebrated Mass before a crowd of over a 100,000 at a park near the Slovene city of Maribor.

[ image: The Pope had an enthusiastic reception]
The Pope had an enthusiastic reception
Sounding cheerful despite his slurred speech - attributed to Parkinson's Disease - he got an enthusiastic welcome and the loudest applause when he roundly condemned what he called the cruel ethnic cleansing and extreme nationalism which he said had sadly scarred the Balkans.

He urged the crowds to emulate Bishop Slomsek, a promoter of Slovene culture and education under the Hapsburg Empire and who was proclaimed blessed, the first step to sainthood.

Slomsek, said the Pope, had proved it was possible to be a sincere patriot while still cooperating with people of other cultures, nationalities and faith.


The Pope also prayed for the victims of totalitarianism and referred to a mass grave recently discovered near Maribor.

[ image: Over 100,000 gathered at Maribor]
Over 100,000 gathered at Maribor
Although the Pope did not name names, the grave is widely assumed to be of people put to death by the Yugoslav communist regime after the end of the Second World War.

This has been Pope John Paul's 88th foreign trip and one of his shortest - lasting less than a day.

It marks the start of a strenuous schedule for the 79-year-old leader of the Catholic Church in the run-up to the new millennium.

He is due to go to India and Georgia in November, although it is still uncertain whether a controversial visit to Iraq in December will go ahead.

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