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Pope To Visit Croatia for 2nd Time

October 1, 1998

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Croatia’s archbishop speaks softly, but his words pack a wallop against the government, which he says has sinned by allowing poverty and corruption to flourish.

So when Pope John Paul II visits Croatia this weekend, he will find a different Roman Catholic church than on his first visit four years ago: a church closer to the people and further from the government.

In 1994, the archbishop was Franjo Kuharic, who was close _ critics charge too close _ to the government of President Franjo Tudjman.

Jozip Bozanic, 49, changed the tune.

His appointment by the Vatican was surprising to many, who believed that one of Kuharic’s close associates would replace him on his retirement at age 78.

But Bozanic, former bishop of the northern island of Krk, seemed to offer what the Vatican wanted for a Croatia developing its fledgling democracy: He was known as a contemporary churchman who advocated the church’s autonomy within society and its distance from the political leadership.

From his first address last Christmas, he has chided the country’s leaders, however indirectly, for condoning the increasing gap between rich and poor.

``Bozanic is the archbishop of the postwar era, professing postwar issues,″ political analyst Ivan Grdesic says, referring to the 1991 Serb-Croat war.

It took until January for Croatia to regain control of all its territory and turn to peacetime issues.

Many Croats have turned toward the church since 1990, when Tudjman steered Croatia to independence from former Yugoslavia, whose communist leaders suppressed national and religious activities.

The church, supporting independence, stood by Tudjman. That, in turn, earned him many votes in the country where about 70 percent of its 4.5 million people are Roman Catholics.

Now that the focus is on peacetime topics _ such as employment, low wages and human rights _ many Croats have become increasingly dissatisfied with Tudjman’s 8-year rule. While the majority face economic hardships, the ruling elite and the businessmen they favor have gotten rich.

Sensing the mood, Bozanic called in his Christmas address for an ``urgent review of the poverty that many people face.″

``Violent political and economic changes led to rapid enrichment of some individuals and even bigger impoverishment of many people,″ he said. ``It is a sin, enabled by the laws and committed by the structures who didn’t care for people and the community.″

He expressed concern at seeing that ``people are losing confidence in state and legal institutions″ and implied corruption was taking hold.

Analyst Mladen Plese said no one else has dared ``to denounce the governing bodies’ behavior so drastically.″

Bozanic’s views evidently please the United States, whose officials are lately trying to encourage more democracy in Croatia. In an unprecedented move, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright paid him a visit earlier this month.

Many ordinary Croatians also appreciate his common touch.

``Pity he’s not a politician running for president,″ said Mara Rajic, a 61-year-old retiree.

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