VATICAN CITY, JUN 7, 2003 (VIS) - Pope John Paul flew this morning from Rijeka to Osijek, which is situated on the right bank of the Drava river, 25 kilometers from its confluence with the Danube and is the administrative and economic center of the eastern Croatia region known as Slavonia. He celebrated Mass at the Osijek Airport in the presence of civil and religious authorities, pilgrims from neighboring countries, representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Reform, members of the Jewish community and followers of Islam.
Not far from Osijek is the city of Vukovar, which was destroyed during the war in 1991. A crucifix, badly damaged during the war, was near the papal altar as a witness to the people's sufferings and hopes, to reconciliation and a new life. At the end of today's Mass, as a sign of ecclesial renewal, the Pope crowned the statue of Our Lady of Aljmas and the image of Our Lady of Vocin, whose shrines, destroyed during the war, have since been rebuilt and are flourishing.
At the start of his homily, the Pope remarked that today's Eucharist marked the conclusion of the five-year long synod of the diocese of Djakovo and Srijem and the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the ecclesiastical province of Zagreb.
"At the beginning of the third millennium," stated the Holy Father, "God is calling believers, and the laity in particular, to a renewed missionary outreach. Mission is not 'something added on' to the Christian vocation. Indeed, the Council states that the Christian vocation is by its very nature a vocation to the apostolate."
"Dear brothers and sisters," he continued, "the Church in Slavonia and Srijem needs you! After the trying times of the war, which has left the people of this region with deep wounds not yet completely healed, a commitment to reconciliation, solidarity and social justice calls for courage on the part of individuals inspired by faith, open to brotherly love and concerned for defending the dignity of the human person made in the image of God."
He told the laity that they are "called to assume generously your own share of responsibility for the life of the ecclesial communities to which you belong. The image which parishes present, as places of welcome and of mission, also depends upon you. As sharers in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ, enriched by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, you can make your contribution in the areas of liturgy and catechesis, and in the promotion of missionary and charitable initiatives of various kinds. No baptized person can remain idle!
Pope John Paul pointed out that on his flight to Osijek, he "was able to admire the beauty of the plain of Slavonia ' known as 'the granary of Croatia' ' and my thoughts naturally turned to the field workers, so numerous in this region. I greet them with particular affection.
"Dear brothers and sisters, I know that your life is a hard one and that the yield of the earth's fruits does not at times match the hard work which is demanded of you. I also know that farm work has its own serious difficulties: it has lost a part of its value and young people were already choosing urban life even before the last war, which left many villages with scarcely any inhabitants."
In closing remarks, the Holy Father invited these workers "not to lose confidence and to bear in mind that by your manual work ' which eloquently recalls the Biblical duty entrusted to man of 'subduing' the earth and of 'having dominion over the visible world' ' you are daily 'cooperators' of God the Creator. Know that the Pope and the Church are close to you and, with great esteem for the importance and dignity of your daily toil, they pray that agricultural and field workers, both men and women, will receive the due recognition within the overall development of the community."
Following Mass the Holy Father went to the bishop's residence in Djakovo where he had lunch with the ordinaries of the diocese and the members of the papal entourage. In late afternoon he visited the cathedral of Djakovo, built between 1866 and 1882 in the neo-romantic style. The crypt contains the tombs of all the bishops of Djakovo and the most sumptuous is that of Josip Juraj Strossmayer, bishop from 1849 to 1905, who ordered the building of the cathedral.
After his private visit to the cathedral, Pope John Paul flew from Osijek to Rijeka and went directly to the archdiocesan seminary.