Pope praises women as wives, mothers

Saturday, June 7, 2003

DUBROVNIK, Croatia -- Pope John Paul II praised the "lofty vocation" of women as wives and mothers Friday, urging them to continue using their maternal instinct for the good of their families, the church and society.

The pope extolled the virtues of women as he beatified a Croatian nun at a Mass attended by an estimated 70,000 people in the port of this ancient Adriatic coastal resort. The service was a high point of John Paul's five-day pilgrimage to Croatia, the 100th foreign tour of his papacy.

Security has been tight at all of the pope's stops, and late Friday, the state-run news agency HINA reported that it and a Croatian Catholic news agency had received e-mails threatening to kill the pope "in the name of Allah."

The e-mails, signed the "Islamic Front of el-Mujahadeen" and addressed to "the infidels," appeared to have originated in neighboring Bosnia, said Interior Ministry spokeswoman Zinka Bardic. She said Croatian and international police were investigating, but that there was no danger to the pontiff because of heavy security.

The 83-year-old pope, clearly uncomfortable in temperatures that reached 86 degrees, sat under a white canopy protecting him from the sun. He slumped in his chair at times during the three-hour Mass, but his voice remained strong.

John Paul beatified Marija Petkovic, who died in Rome in 1966 after founding a religious community that cared for impoverished children in Croatia and Latin America.

The pope praised her "indomitable courage" and used the occasion to address women all over the world.

Improving relations

"I thank you, dear women, because by your sensitivity, generosity and strength, you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic," John Paul said, speaking in Croatian as the sails of small boats in a nearby cove flapped in a gentle breeze.

"The frenetic pace of modern life can lead to an obscuring or even a loss of what is truly human," he said. "Perhaps more than in other periods of history, our time is in need of that genius which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance."

"Women of Croatia, conscious of your lofty vocation as wives and mothers, continue to see every person with the eyes of your heart," John Paul said. "Continue to reach out to them and to stand beside them with the sensitivity born of your maternal instinct."

John Paul has spoken out often during his nearly 25-year papacy on the importance of women to the church. He also has been criticized by some for refusing to allow women to become priests and for denying them top positions at the Vatican.

Last year, the Vatican authenticated a miracle attributed to Petkovic: the saving of a Peruvian navy submarine struck by a Japanese fishing boat in 1988 just off Peru's coast. A junior officer praying to the nun for help managed to prevent the sub from sinking and rescued trapped sailors.

Petkovic is the first Croatian woman to be beatified, the last step before possible sainthood.

John Paul's trip, which will take him to five cities all over Croatia, is a physical test: The pope suffers from Parkinson's disease and crippling knee and hip ailments.

On Friday, he was wheeled to the harborside Mass platform on a hydraulic chair, where he sat hunched over and flush-faced in the balmy summer heat.

His stop in Dubrovnik resonated among the Croats, who in 1991 saw Serb shells smash the city's elegant Renaissance palaces, ancient fortresses and stone churches during Croatia's war for independence from Yugoslavia.

More than a decade after the fighting, ethnic tensions remain and nationalism is resurging, worrying leaders who struggle to prepare the country for membership in the European Union, perhaps as early as 2007.

The pope expressed his affection for this overwhelmingly Catholic country, which he visited in 1994 and 1998. He reached out Friday to "those whose lives were forever changed by the grief of losing a family member in the cruel war ... or by other bitter troubles which they have endured."

Later, flashing some humor, John Paul greeted "the wonderful children" assembled outside a Dubrovnik church where he released a white dove, and then quipped: "And also those older -- they are good, too."

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