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Pope Urges Reconciliation Among Bosnian Groups

Pope John Paul II is appealing for reconciliation among Bosnia's ethnic groups, and has asked forgiveness for suffering inflicted by Roman Catholics and others. The pontiff made his appeal in the Serb part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The ailing 83-year-old pontiff made his appeal for forgiveness at a mass attended by an estimated 45,000 people at the site of a destroyed Franciscan monastery near Banja Luka, the main city of the Bosnian-Serb Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The monastery was demolished by Serb forces during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. During World War II, it was a base for Nazi-allied Croat Ustashe forces.

It was also the home of a Franciscan priest, Vjekoslav Filipovic, who earned the title "Brother Satan" as commandant of the nearby Jasenovac concentration camp where tens of thousands, including many Jews, were massacred.

The controversial location was chosen by the Vatican for the beatification of a Croat theologist, Ivan Merz. If his sainthood goes through, he will become Bosnia's first saint.

Relatives of those who died in the camp protested the ceremony, while Bosnian-Serb hard-liners in the region had put up "Pope Go Home" posters that were removed before the pope's arrival. 4,000 policemen and soldiers were on hand for the pope's one-day visit.

Speaking in Bosnian, John Paul said he understood the wounds of history, which were painfully re-opened during the Bosnian war of the past decade. More than 200,000 died during that conflict and two million were made homeless.

The pope said that he wanted to ask forgiveness from a city marked by so much suffering and by sins committed against humanity, human dignity, and freedom by the children of the Catholic Church.

He added: "only in a climate of true reconciliation will the memory of so many innocent victims be honored and their sacrifice not be in vain."

The pope was greeted by the three members of Bosnia-Herzegovina's joint presidency: a Serb, a Croat and a Muslim. In what was seen as a first step toward reconciliation, the presidency announced the return of properties confiscated under communism to the Roman Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish faiths.