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Pope Heads to Croatia With Pro-EU Message

A woman passes by a poster depicting Pope Benedict XVI in Zagreb, Croatia, June 3, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI travels to Croatia Saturday for a two-day visit where he will take part in religious celebrations and encourage the country's entry into the European Union.

After meeting with Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, the pope will take part in a number of religious celebrations, including the National Day for Croatian Catholic Families and the Sunday Mass in the capital, Zagreb.

Benedict, who has long backed Croatia's bid to become a member of the European Union, will also try to allay fears that the country will sacrifice parts of its independence and religious identity by joining the EU. Croatia is expected to be the next country to join the 27-member bloc, possibly as early as 2013.

The pontiff will be making his first visit to Croatia, which is 89 percent Catholic. The late Pope John Paul II visited Croatia three times after its independence in 1991, and the Vatican was one of the first institutions to recognize Croatia's independence.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.