John Paul II Backs Croatia's Entry Into European Union

Says Delay Could Hurt Political Reforms

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2004 ( John Paul II encouraged Croatia’s entry into the European Union and the country’s process of postwar reconciliation, when he received Zagreb’s new ambassador to the Holy See.

In his address Saturday to Emilio Marin, the Pope recalled Croatia’s “undying religious patrimony” and encouraged its citizens’ future contribution “to the consortium of European peoples.”

The Holy Father expressed hope that the recent efforts made to have Croatia form part of a “united Europe” will meet with success.

At the same time, John Paul II voiced concern that delay “in Croatia’s entry into the European Union might be detrimental to the process of application of democratic reforms, not only in this country, but also in other nations of that part of the continent, which are directed with fervent hope towards European integration.”

After World War II, Yugoslavia became a federal independent Communist state under the strong hand of Marshal Tito.

Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but it took four years of fighting before occupying Serb armies were mostly cleared from Croatian lands. Under U.N. supervision, the last Serb-held enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998.

“Justice and forgiveness represent basic pillars” of peace, the Pope said. “Justice ensures full respect of rights and duties, and forgiveness heals and reconstructs from their foundations relations between people, who still resent the consequences of the confrontations between ideologies of the recent past.”

In this context, John Paul II called for a solution to the problem of refugees in various parts of the Balkans who have not been able to return to their homes following the 1990s war. He applauded the agreements between Croatia and Serbia in recognizing the rights of minorities.

Lastly, the Pontiff guaranteed the Church’s collaboration in the country’s “social and economic development.” Such development, he said, must take into account “cultural, social and spiritual needs” in order to avoid the negative consequences of globalization that can lead to social homogenization.

About 80% of Croatia’s 4.4 million inhabitants are Catholic. Orthodox, Muslims and Protestants comprise most of the rest of the population.

Emilio Marin, the new ambassador to the Holy See, is an expert in Christian and Roman archaeology and, until now, director of the Archaeological Museum in the city of Split.

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