In a letter addressed to the bishops of Yugoslavia on 20 April, Pope John Paul II expressed his "profound affliction" over the "tragic humanitarian situation" in that country, and said that he will not cease his efforts to calls all parties to negotiate.
"It is with profound affliction that I see the tragic situation that exists in different regions of Yugoslavia, and especially in Kosovo, worsen every day," the Holy Father wrote. He said he feels spiritually close to the country's bishops and to all Catholic pastors in the region - and indeed "to all men of good will who are seeking to aid those who are suffering the most at this time."
The Pope promised that the Holy See would do everything possible, through diplomatic efforts, prayers, and public appeals, to advance the cause of peace in the region. He mentioned, in particular, the urgent need for peace in Kosovo, whose people "have suffered tragically" and voiced the hope that all the refugees who have been forced to leave their homes will be allowed to return in peace.
The Pope's message also stressed that "all those responsible for national and international leadership" should recognise that "the option of dialogue is always possible, and could afford honourable solutions for all parties, respectful of the rights of the men and women of the land."
Earlier, in a personal letter to the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Alexei II, the Pope thanked the Eastern Church leader for visiting Belgrade.
As the Patriarch arrived in Yugoslavia for a visit in which he proclaimed his solidarity with the Serbian people, he received the Pope's letter from the papal nuncio in Belgrade. In his letter, the Holy Father wrote pointedly, "All too frequently, violence seems to be the easiest formula to resolve difficult situations. It is the duty of all those who profess the Gospel of peace to proclaim with a single, unanimous voice, that any form of violence, ethnic cleansing, deportation of people and exclusion of nations from social life, cannot be considered as a means to arrive at civil solutions to problems which, on the contrary, can only be resolved with procedures that respect the law."
Acknowledging that the evidence he has received on the situation in Yugoslavia has caused him "profound distress," the Pope said he was "comforted" to know that Patriarch Alexei has gone to visit Patriarch Pvle of Belgrade, and the Serbian Church, a visit whose objective was to "announce the Easter message of peace and express Christian solidarity to all the victims of the persecutions and violence, which unfortunately have characterised this region for so long."
The Pontiff expressed his hope that the Easter message carried by Alexei would be welcomed as "the only way to re-establish tranquility and stability, so that every person, independent of ethnic, religious or political background, be able to live in harmony with the rest."
John Paul II concluded by invoking a prayer to the Resurrected Christ for all those who "today are deprived of their fundamental rights, so that peace will reign in that beloved land which has been suffering for such a long time."
During his trip to Belgrade, Patriarch Alexei met with President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian leaders, and asked them to "allow all good and peaceful people to return home, without distinctions as to nationality or religion."
At the same time, Patriarch Alexei issued stinging denunciations of the NATO military campaign which, he said, was characterised by "hypocrisy" and "perfidy." He added, "God is truth and justice, and truth and justice are on the side of our Serbian brothers." He affirmed his belief that the Kosovo region was holy to the Orthodox faith.
The patriarch's visit to Yugoslavia coincided with the fifth week of NATO bombing designed to stop Yugoslavia's Serbian government from continuing a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority. "Our mission is one of peace and forgiveness, principles the Church has always stood for," he said. "War cannot solve, but can only multiply the problems ... Kosovo is a blessed land ... from whose monasteries prayers have been heard for more than six centuries," he added, referring to more than 1,000 Serb medieval religious objects located in Kosovo.
Catholic World News