Less than a year after his last trip to the Balkans, the pope was back, this time visiting a corner of Slovenia near the Austrian and Hungarian borders to beatify Anton Martin Slomsek, a 19th-century bishop who promoted Slovenes' language and sense of identity during Austrian domination.
John Paul's last trip to the Balkans took him to Croatia in October, and he first came to Slovenia in 1996. Slomsek is a national hero in this former Yugoslav republic, where more than 80 percent of the people are Roman Catholic.
Although the 79-year-old pope has difficulty walking, and travel often tires him, Sunday's day trip underscored his desire to be with his flock when he can and to personally press his message of peace and reconciliation.
Arriving from Rome, the pontiff walked gingerly down the stairs of his aircraft, one hand on the railing, his cane in the other, and was driven to the Mass site on a grassy expanse near a 15th-century castle.
Sun burned through foggy skies and a stiff breeze three times ripped off the pope's skullcap.
The pontiff lamented that the Balkans have been "marked unfortunately in these years by struggles and violence, by extreme nationalism, by savage ethnic cleansing and wars among peoples and cultures."
Slomsek, who died in 1862, showed it was "possible to be sincere patriots and with equal sincerity live together and work with peoples of other nationalities, of other cultures, of other religions," the pope said.
In June, just a few miles away from the castle, highway workers digging a trench discovered thousands of skeletons, believed to be those of Croats killed by vengeful antifascists in the convulsive aftermath of World War II.
During the war, Croats sided with occupying German Nazis and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and antifascist Croats were killed in Croat-run concentration camps. At war's end, thousands of pro-fascist Croats were killed by avenging Communist partisans.
Noting the many Croat Catholics at the ceremony, John Paul recalled "the innocent victims of wars and of totalitarian regimes, and in a particular way, those who were heaped into the common graves recently discovered near Maribor."
"May such dramatic events never ever repeat themselves," John Paul said to the applause of the crowd of more than 100,000 faithful.
The pope only mentioned Maribor by name, but his words clearly referred to the ethnic cleansing this decade that bloodied Croatia, Bosnia, and, most recently, Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians were targeted by Yugoslav Serbs, then blamed for revenge killings of Serbs after the war.
"His words should reach Kosovo, but above all the Serbs," said Ana Milaveca 17-year-old Slovene attending the Mass.
When Slovenia proclaimed independence from Yugoslavia, religion - suppressed under communists - was legal again and the church sought to regain land and buildings, such as Betnava castle near the Mass site, which had been seized by the Communists after World War II.
Under a 1992 law, the castle is to be returned, but the transfer appears bogged down in bureaucracy.
This was the briefest of the 88 trips abroad the pope has made in his 20-year papacy, excluding a five-hour visit in 1982 to San Marino, a tiny republic inside Italy. At 12 hours, 35 minutes, the Slovenia pilgrimage was officially 15 minutes shorter than a day trip to Tunisia in 1996.
The pope plans to visit India and the former Soviet republic of Georgia in November, and the Vatican is also trying to arrange a trip to Iraq, possibly in December.