TUE, 28 MAY 1996 22:01:07 GMT
Pope John Paul II in Slovenia
AIM Ljubljana, May 22, 1996
"I rejoice at my first visit to your homeland, to this land of numberless churches and chapels which testify about deep Christian roots of your people". These were the first words Pope John Paul II uttered in Slovene language immediately after landing in Ljubljana aeroport on Friday, May 17, about 17.00 hours. He was welcomed at the aeroport by President of the state Milan Kucan who addressed the Pope with a hearty welcome: "You are welcome here. I wish that you will feel it for yourself and that you will feel well, and we will with great joy celebrate your birthday together with you", stressed Kucan. The Pope came for a three-day visit to Slovenia, and on its second day was his 76th birthday. The first day and half of the second he spent mostly in Ljubljana, on his birthday, a magnificent celebration was convened for him in Postojna by children and young people from Primorska, and on the third day he went to Maribor from where he flew back to Rome.
Slovenia had prepared for this visit for almost a year, and Church authorities had hoped for this visit for much longer - a few years even. With absolutely no explanation, Pope John Paul II postponed the visit for a long time, and more than a year ago gave priority to Croatia. Now, when he finally came, a part of the people welcomed him with great enthusiasm. While he drove through the centre of Ljubljana, thousands of people waved to him, but the rest of the downtown was completely empty. Majority of the people had decided to leave Ljubljana for these three days, and they went to their weekend homes, to the villages and similar. Temporary traffic regime which means that during the Pope's drive through certain parts of the city, traffic on neighbouring roads and streets was completely blocked, contributed to this.
The Police on Duty
Andrej Ster, Minister of internal affairs, a Catholic and a member of the Slovenian Christian Democrats, was nominated President of Government Committee for preparation of the Pope's visit, which means that great care of the Pope's security was taken. He did it to such an extent that in the streets of Ljubljana there were more uniformed persons than citizens. When more than an hour before the Pope arrived, I passed by the Celovec road, the main road which leads to Gorenjska and the aeroport down which the Pope entered Ljubljana almost two hours later, behind fences down the road, at intervals of twenty to thirty metres, stood ordinary policemen and members of special units with German shepherd dogs. A few days prior to the big event, police three-men groups patrolled the city and searched stores and restaurants where they identified all those who they considered suspicious, and put many of them away "just in case". At a press conference, when journalists asked Minister Ster why they were acting in this way, he responded that there nothing of the kind happened. He did not mind that hundreds of citizens of Ljubljana and Maribor saw it with their own eyes. Many homeless persons, vagabonds or drunkards were put in jail at the time, and released immediately after the high guest from Vatican had left.
During the visit of Pope John Paul II to Slovenia, many interesting details could not escape an interested observer. Immediatelly after landing at Ljubljana aeroport, among the first to welcome him were Archibishop of Ljubljana and Metropolitan Alojzij Sustar with bishops. They all kissed the Pope's hand, but the only one who just offered to shake his hand was honorary Bishop of Maribor Vekoslav Grmic who is considered to be a dissident in Slovenian Roman Catholic Church. Another surprise was made by Slovenian Prime Minister Dr Janez Drnovske. According to the initial scenario, Drnovsek was not expected to appear in Brnik (the region where Ljubljana aeroport is located), and Vice Prime Minister, Janko Dezelak, who is a Christian Democrat, was supposed to welcome the Pope in the name of the Government. But, Prime Minister Drnovsek suddenly appeared.
Out of the initial plan, after the arrival, the Pope went directly to a private visit to a village Brezje in the region of Gorenjsko, where there is a famous Saint Mary's Church with the altar made of pure gold. From there, he went to a reception convened by President Kucan and other representatives of the authorities in a representative house in Brdo near Kranj where J.B. Tito's residence used to be. All journalists wonder where the idea came from which was published in Belgrade journal Telegraf, that Kucan had allegedly explained to the Pope that the house once belonged to Karadjordjevic dynasty. Kucan never even mentioned it. Contrary to leaders of Croatia on the occasion of the visit of John Paul II to Croatia, where majority of political and state leadership kissed the Pope's hand, none of them did it in Slovenia, with the exception of Ambassador of Slovenia in Vatican, Stefan Falez, who is a priest.
Reconciliation and Split
During his three-day stay in Slovenia, Pope John Paul II made several speeches and said a few masses. His speech in Ljubljana Cathedral made the greatest impression. Although President Kucan with his wife Stefka was also present, it referred mostly to the Pope's encounter with Slovenian bishops and other Church dignitaries. In fact, he addressed his speech which struck a responsive chord in the public to them. Although he spoke about the need for reconciliation of the Slovenian people, about love and understanding, he also advocated stances of the Slovenian Catholic Church about the Slovenian past. In fact he praised the role of the church in the Second World War as follows: "Shepherds of the Church never retreated, they preached Gospel of life and preserved dignity of rights of all men. They did it with great courage at the time of fascism, nazism and communism..." Of course, the Pope failed to say what was the essence of courage of the Church at the time. Probably, it was in the fact, as various written and recorded material testify, that Bishop Rozman expressed complete loyalty and devotion to the Germans who occupied the country. The Pope also spoke about a civil war in Slovenia fought between the communists (partisans) and the Slovenian home-guard. Obviously these theses which are constantly stressed by Slovenian rightists were imputed to him by Slovenian politicians of rightist orientation or the bishops. And had Karol Woytila, as a renowned anti-fascist cared to look deeper into the matter, he would have found out that the partisans were in fact people of different ideological and political convictions who fought against the occupiers, and home-guardsmen collaborated with the German occupiers and actually played the role of Slovenian quislings.
John Paul II used his visit to attack liberalism, although it is a well-known fact that Liberal Democrats and Christian Democrats are the two ruling parties in Slovenia. He warned the Bishops to beware, or the ideology of communist totalitarianism might be replaced by "not at all less dangerous ideology of undetainable liberalism". And to all atheists in Slovenia, the Pope sent word: "Those who construct a world without God can do it only against Man, against his real materialization and happiness".
In Postojna, on the second day of his visit and on his birthday, young people prepared a magnificent celebration with singing and dancing for the Pope, which he will probably remember for sincerity of all those who had been there from Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and even Hungary. Just as in the morning, at the prformance in Ljubljana and at mass in Stozice, he warmly welcomed representatives of the Serb Orthodox Church in Serb, that same afternoon, in pure Croat he saluted guests from Istria and Dalmatia.
Altogether, for Slovenia and Pope John Paul II this was an unforgettable event, which has left a bitter taste in a part of the Slovenian public. And the Pope obviously had a very good time, because just a couple of days later in Vatican, at St. Peter's square, he spoke to a crowd of 17 thousand people mostly about Slovenia and the warm reception there which he had never experienced before.
Janja Klasinc, AIM