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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Pope praises 'sensitive' women
Nuns await the arrival of the Pope in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Tens of thousands turned out to greet the Pope
Pope John Paul II praised women everywhere as he beatified a Croatian nun in the 100th foreign trip of his papacy on Friday.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims cheered the pontiff at the scenic Croatian port of Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast as he gave his address in Croatian.

"I thank you, dear women, because by your sensitivity, generosity and strength, you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relationships more honest and authentic," the Pope said.

Marija Petkovic became the first Croatian woman to be beatified, which is the last step toward becoming a saint.

She founded a religious order near Dubrovnik in 1920 which cared for poor children in Croatia and Latin America, and died in 1966.

'Indomitable courage'

Awaiting the Pope in the balmy sunshine were pilgrims from the local area and from neighbouring Bosnia.

"We are so excited. The Pope's visit is of immense importance for this town," one woman said.

The Pope spoke of Marija Petkovic's "indomitable courage", and went on to praise all women for their talents as mothers and healers.

Pope John Paul II

"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."

This is the Pope's third trip to Croatia since it proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia.

After his arrival in Croatia on Thursday, the pontiff held talks with President Stipe Mesic in the northern port of Rijeka.

Mr Mesic welcomed remarks by John Paul II supporting Croatia's wish to join the European Union.

He said he hoped Croats would respond to the Pope's message of forgiveness and tolerance, adding that the wars of the early 1990s had left their mark on Croatia.

The BBC's Brian Barron, who is travelling with the Pope, says the church has a growing role in Croatia and a close rapport with the reformist centre-left government.

Around 80% of the Croatian population are Roman Catholic.

During the Pope's five-day visit, about 500,000 people are expected to attend papal masses in Dubrovnik, and other Croatian cities.

Stamina test

Across the country photographs of the pontiff have been plastered over billboards and displayed in shop windows, while schools are to be closed for the visit.

Security is also tight, with traffic limited in the cities he is due to visit.

Police near Dubrovnik
Security is tight for the pope's visit to Dubrovnik
In each of those cities police interviewed all local residents, registered their cars and ordered them to keep their windows closed. People were also told not to use binoculars or cameras in case their lenses were mistaken for gun sights.

On Saturday the Pope will meet leaders of the Orthodox Church in an effort to promote religious tolerance and reconciliation.

The trip promises to test the pontiff's stamina.

He has scaled back his foreign trips in recent years due to ill health, particularly after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2001.

The BBC's Brian Barron
"It was a day rich in symbolism"

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