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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SUN, 03 OCT 1999 22:37:54 GMT

    The Pope in Slovenia

    Bad Publicity?

    The visit of Pope John Paul II to Slovenia was concluded with the beatification of the first Slovenian saint; contrary to expectations the consequence of the procession was anti-propaganda launched in the foreign media.

    AIM Ljubljana, September 24, 1999

    The second visit of Pope John Paul II to Slovenia ended without incidents and according to the established schedule. The central event of the visit was the proclamation of Anton Martin Slomsk, a Slovenian reformer, (died in 1862) for a saint - "beatus".

    The happening was important for the local Catholics because this is the first Slovenian saint ever.

    **He Left with the Rainbow

    The Pope arrived by plane to the Ljubljana Airport Brnik. The weather was right because the rain stopped just before the beginning of the central celebration on the Betnava Plain, near Maribor (e.g. during Bill Clinton's visit it constantly rained) and after the mass even a rainbow appeared in the sky. That was enough for the pilgrims to conclude that it was yet another proof that the Pope was well connected "up there".

    Naturally, the Pope made a speech emphasizing the value of tolerance, ecumenism and permeation of different cultures, and citing Slomsk as an example. He also mentioned some other candidates for beatification, including the most serious pretender for the title of a saint - Frederik Baraga, a Slovenian who spread religion in the last century working as a missionary in Africa.

    Numerous speeches befitting the auspicious occasion ensued. The host, the Maribor Bishop Kramberger, did not forget to underline that the Vatican was the first to recognise independent Slovenia and Milan Kucan, President of the state (and the last chief of the Slovenian communists under "that" regime) assessed the meeting with the Pope as "a great event not only for the Catholics in Slovenia, but all Slovenians as well". About 200 thousand believers, including 800 priests, 800 nuns, 2,000 scouts and 1,500 disabled persons followed the main show in Maribor. Naturally, the Pope did not leave empty-handed - the first present was a cute little Greek cross-shaped brass box with three Slomsk's books and a medal. The form of the little chest (the Greek cross) symbolised Slomsk's pioneering work at "the ecumenical aspirations towards unity with the Orthodox Church".

    The festivities were somewhat spoiled by two problems: the first was of technical and the second of political nature. The stands which, according to the organizers' request were divided into ten "sectors" have suddenly turned into ten circles of hell for some visitors. Since free movement and crossing of "fences" was impossible, members of the VIP class sat comfortably in the front rows while just behind them up to the last empty rows members of the ordinary flock were pressed. No wonder that the impressions of the visit from these two angles, at least judging from the stories of eye-witnesses, differed so much.

    The second (the political) problem was caused by the Slovenian Archbishop, Franc Rode, who just before the visit published a long article in the Vatican paper "Oservatore Romano" about open problems between the official Ljubljana and Vatican. Among other things, Rode quoted the study of Fran Adam, a sociologist, according to which leading positions in the Slovenian society were still held by "85 percent of the members from the old system" because of which some people in Slovenia were (allegedly) "living in fear". Such statement caused bitter reactions of the liberal press and even President Milan Kucan, sent his answer...

    Anti-Propaganda

    From the financial point of view this second visit of the Pope to Ljubljana in the last three years was a choke-pear for the Slovenian budget. The state has planned that the costs would reach DEM 5 million, although it is assumed that the final amount will be higher. The Church gave much less - about DEM 1.5 million. The state footed the bill with the aid of "internal reserves", while in addition to the sale of souvenirs and collections of the believers organised even during Pope's visit, sponsors came to the Church's rescue.

    If anyone thought that one becomes a saint only thanks to miracles and merits, he is greatly mistaken. Everything has its price, including the beatification of the first Slovenian saint. According to calculations which have leaked out from the church circles, the initiation of the beatification procedure alone costs 120 millions liras, while the price of one page of the documentation to be submitted during the procedure is 12 thousand liras (around DEM 120). On average, several thousand of pages of such documentation have to be collected for a solid saint. For example, documentation for the beatification of Frederik Baraga, which was initiated in early nineties, amounts to some 3,000 pages, while the current "Slomsk's documentation" has 2,400 pages. In short, the "basic capital" for entering the competition for the inauguration of saints cannot be below DEM 200 thousand! Those well-versed in beatification business claim that during the mandate of the current Pope some 800 saints have been beatified which has increased the Vatican's profit for about DEM 160 million.

    True, very few complained about finances when it came to such an important visit and event because it was explained to be in the service of the promotion of the state, etc. Then, all of a sudden, like a bolt from the blue, correspondents of the Slovenian media started writing about negative reactions of the foreign press to the Pope's visit. The Pope's reference to "tolerance" which should be initiated in the Balkans, presenting Slomsk as someone who should serve as an example to others from the one-time family of fraternal nations, the talk of John Paul II with Ivan Kucan (on the situation in South-East Europe) and reports of the foreign press on problems between the Church and the state cast a shadow over the expected positive side of this story.

    For example, the "Delo" correspondent from Rome reported that despite the fact that the Italian TV was following the event at first hand, it hardly mentioned Slomsk's beatification as a reason for the Pope's visit. Instead, the media laid the emphasis on the Pope's message sent from the "extreme North of the Balkan Peninsula". One of the Italian TV commentators even hinted that "the new churches that have appeared only some ten years ago are now looking for their own saints and national identity" and that the Church was forced to be cooperative.

    German reactions were even worse. "Foreign papers are wondering why did the Pope visit such a small state like Slovenia for the second time in three years. There was something fishy there! And they started nosing around... "The Vatican is following with great anxiety the fall of its influence in the European states," claimed "Die Welt". "And there is a Slovenian model, in which the state and the Church are strictly apart - which seems rather dangerous for the Vatican. The presence of the Catholic church is not allowed in key spheres of the social life - there is no religious teaching in schools, no theology classes at University, nor priests in the Army and the abortion is legal up to 12th week of pregnancy", sent Damjan Slabe, the Bonn correspondent for the "Delo", the reports of "Die Welt".

    Similar were the conclusions of "Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung". Despite the fact that the formal objective of his visit was the proclamation of the first local saint (which Slovenia wanted for years), the Pope managed to put in the centre of the media attention all conflicts between the Church and the Ljubljana authorities relating to the restitution of forests and real estate property, as well as regarding the Church's role in society. And not only that. "To come to Slovenia and speak about peace in Kosovo means to push the state back into the Balkan cauldron from which it wanted to escape...Some foreign-policy analysts who were unaware of the fact that the state had financed the major part of the visit, asked me whether the state had such qualms of guilty conscience that it was willing to pay one of the most expensive anti-promotional activities in its brief history" described the "Delo" correspondent the German caustic comments of the first Slovenian beatification.

    This is an additional argument for all those who believe that only peace and progress of the Balkans and not insistence on the difference between Slovenia and all others in the South-East, will enable better promotion and propaganda of the state "on the sunny side of the Alps".

    Igor Mekina

    (AIM, Ljubljana)