Pope John Paul Emphasizes Marriage and Family Values During 100th Foreign Pilgrimage

Jun 10, 2003 12:10 PM EDT

RIJEKA, Croatia — Pope John Paul II boldly encouraged young Croatians to marry, raise families and teach their children “the path the leads to authentic joy,” during his 100th foreign pilgrimage, Pentecost Sunday. Over 100,000 pilgrims gathered to hear the 83-year-old pope speak.

"You are an important part of society and the church," the pope told the families. Empathizing with their struggles, he urged the country’s politicians to take note of their plight; the unemployment rate in the ex-Yugoslav republic is at 20 percent and the average monthly wage is $450.

"It must not be forgotten that in helping the family, we also help to resolve other important problems, such as providing assistance to the sick and the elderly, stopping the spread of crime and finding a remedy to drug use," John Paul said.

The Pope also encouraged the many unmarried couples that live together to be akin to "a bond that is publicly manifested and recognized."

The mass marked the last service of John Paul’s draining five-day, five-city pilgrimage; John Paul who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and crippling knee and hip ailments has been wheeled on a special hydraulic chair. However, he maintained a stamina that surprised even his Vatican entourage.

"He is amazing," said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "What you can see everywhere is the inner strength of this man who keeps going without even asking: `Am I tired? Is this too much?' He just keeps the pace -- the pace he has imposed on himself."

"We are grateful, honored and proud to have him here for the third time," said Katica Marusic, 63, a retired saleswoman in Rijeka. "I hope he feels that."

John Paul will later meet with Croatia's prime minister. He also plans to bless the cornerstone for the village of the 2009 Mediterranean Games, which Rijeka hopes to host. The pope will close his trip on Monday with a visit to the southern coastal city of Zadar.

By Pauline J.