VATICAN CITY, FEB. 16, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II urged Catholics in Yugoslavia to forgo violence in solving their nation's problems. But he also noted an encouraging increase in vocations in the troubled land.
The Pontiff met with the Catholic bishops of what remains of former Yugoslavia, who ended their every-five-year "ad limina" visit to the Holy See. After meeting personally with each bishop during the week, the Pope delivered an address summarizing his hopes for Yugoslavia's future.
Hours earlier, a motorcade bearing Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic was fired upon in an ambush attack. Mihajlovic said a few days ago that he intended to arrest former President Slobodan Milosevic. The incident pointed up the country's difficult road to democracy, since President Vojislav Kostunica's advent to power.
John Paul II described the Yugoslavian situation thus: "I have learned of the dramatic circumstances that your peoples have endured in the past. Now you have brought me up-to-date on the difficult situation that continues even today, in particular, the persistence of political and social tensions, which run the risk of causing new confrontations."
His pointed advice to the bishops: "Encourage your faithful not to give in to the temptation of recourse to violence."
The Church is a small minority in today's Yugoslavia. There are just over 500,000 Catholics, or 5% of the total population. There are five bishops, 197 priests, seven non-ordained men religious, and 374 nuns. The nation's sufferings intensified following the 1999 NATO bombings.
John Paul II encouraged Yugoslavia's bishops and faithful to move forward with new "missionary audacity."
Yet he noted that dioceses are cut off from one another. "The diversity of the situations in which the different diocesan communities work, sadly, do not allow, as is desirable, for plans in each of the common sectors of pastoral activity," the Holy Father said.
He also sees bright spots, however. The Pope mentioned the flowering "of many priestly vocations," in the martyred province of Kosovo. The Church in Yugoslavia has about 100 seminarians, more than double the number of just a few years ago.