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Pope begins landmark 100th foreign trip

Pope John Paul II yesterday began his a five-day visit to Croatia, landing at at an Adriatic island airport where the ex-Yugoslav republic's president and top church leaders were on hand to welcome him.

"I thank Almighty God for having allowed me to come back among you on this, my hundredth pastoral visit," John Paul said to applause.

The pope delivered his arrival speech in Croatian with a strong and clear voice but shaking hands, before being spirited by high-speed catamaran across a bay to Rijeka's harbor, where thousands of cheering pilgrims gathered near the docks to greet him.

Earlier, as he boarded the Alitalia flight in Rome, John Paul had difficulty walking and had to be helped by aides onto the special lift he uses to get on and off aircraft. The Italian airline presented the pope with a special cake in honour of his 100th trip.

The Holy Father's visit gets into full swing today with a visit to the war-battered southern coastal resort of Dubrovnik.

The pope expressed his affection for overwhelmingly Catholic Croatia, praising "the ancient Christian roots of this land steeped in the blood of countless martyrs."

Croats "greet you with smiles, joyful hearts and open arms," President Stipe Mesic told the Pope. "Aware of problems that are the legacy of history, war and our own limitations, we today want to pursue democracy, to build a just society."

The pope's third visit "shows how much the Holy Father cherishes Croatia, its church and its people," said Ivan Devcic, bishop of the port city of Rijeka, which will serve as a base for the pope and his entourage.

Photographs of John Paul are in shop windows and on billboards all over Croatia. Schools were closed in honour of his visit, and many Croats intended to skip work to see him. Security was tight for the pope's arrival, with traffic restricted in the cities awaiting him, but trains were available free of charge to pilgrims.


Papal Visit to Croatia (official site)
Apostolic Journey to Croatia, 5-9 June 2003 (Vatican website)
Ecumenism Is Among Topics Awaiting the Pope in Croatia (Zenit)
Croatia's Maria Petkovic Aided the Poor (Zenit)
John Paul II departs on 100th foreign apostolic trip (VIS)
Pope Arrives in Croatia, Begins 100th foreign voyage (Catholic World News)
Pope Making Landmark 100th Foreign Trip (AP)
Pope starts 100th foreign trip (BBC)
Pope Arrives in Croatia on 100th Overseas Trip (Voice of America)
Pope headed to Croatia, a country at a crossroads (AP)
Pope makes his landmark 100th foreign pilgrimage (Zeenews)
Pope Nears Trip to Croatia With "Great Hope" (Zenit)
Pope Arrives in Croatia to Help Heal Wounds (Zenit)
500,000 to Turn Out for Pope in Croatia (Zenit)

6 Jun 2003