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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pontiff to Appeal for Peace In Still-Divided Sarajevo

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul will make a strong appeal for peace and reconciliation over the weekend when he pays a historic visit to Sarajevo, scarred by a war driven by ethnic and religious hatreds.


His 25-hour visit to the Bosnian capital, now a mainly Moslem city, is expected be one of the most emotional in recent years for a pontiff dogged by declining health and advancing age.


It comes at a time of tensions in the shaky federation between Roman Catholic Croats and Moslems, with little sign that the ethnic separation wrought by their conflict with Orthodox Serbs has been diminished by peace.


"May this Apostolic Visit also become a voyage of peace on which the Church bears witness to its solidarity with suffering men and peoples," the Pope said at his weekly general audience.


Fears for the 76-year-old Pope's security have been fuelled by a wave of attacks on churches and mosques over the past two months. A monastery and a church in central Sarajevo were among the targets of the attacks, none of which caused injuries.


Authorities in the capital say they will deploy thousands of local police for the visit. United Nations police and NATO forces said they will provide support.


"The Pope is the symbol of reconciliation and understanding and in few places is that message as important and as necessary as in Sarajevo," international mediator Carl Bildt said earlier this year.


In 1995 the Pope appeared to weep publicly over the suffering in Bosnia and in 1994, on a visit to overwhelmingly Catholic Croatia, he condemned ultra-nationalism and the use of religion to justify the wars that tore apart former Yugoslavia.


He had planned to visit Sarajevo the same year, while war was still raging, but cancelled the trip when Bosnian Serbs besieging the city said they could not guarantee his safety.