Pope urges Bos­ni­ans to work for peace, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion


Pope Fran­cis urged Bos­nia’s Mus­lims, Or­tho­dox and Catholics on Satur­day to put the “bar­bar­ity” of war be­hind them and work to­gether for a peace­ful fu­ture as he made a one-day visit to Sara­jevo to en­cour­age rec­on­cil­i­a­tion fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing three-way war of the 1990s.

Fran­cis re­ceived a joy­ous wel­come from thou­sands of cheer­ing Bos­ni­ans who lined his mo­tor­cade route through the mostly Mus­lim city of 300,000. An­other 65,000 peo­ple, most of them Catholics, packed the same Sara­jevo sta­dium where St. John Paul II presided over an emo­tional post-war Mass of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in 1997.

“War never again!” Fran­cis in­toned in his homily, de­nounc­ing those who in­cite war to sell weapons or to de­lib­er­ately fo­ment ten­sions among peo­ples of dif­fer­ent cul­tures. He called on Bos­ni­ans to make peace ev­ery day — not just preach it — through their “ac­tions, at­ti­tudes and acts of kind­ness, of fra­ter­nity, of dia­logue, of mercy.”

The bril­liant sun shin­ing on Satur­day’s Mass con­trasted sharply with the un­sea­son­able April snow­storm that pelted John Paul dur­ing his his­toric 1997 Mass, which marked the first time many Croats had re­turned to Sara­jevo since the war.

Nearly ev­ery step of Fran­cis’ day was de­signed to show off in­ter­faith and in­tereth­nic har­mony in a city once known as “Europe’s Jerusalem” for the peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of Chris­tians, Mus­lims and Jews. The city, though, be­came syn­ony­mous with re­li­gious en­mity dur­ing the 1992-95 con­flict that left 100,000 dead and dis­placed half the pop­u­la­tion.

Chil­dren dressed in tra­di­tional folk out­fits rep­re­sent­ing Bos­nia’s three main re­li­gious con­fes­sions greeted Fran­cis at the air­port, Mus­lim car­pen­ters crafted the wooden throne he sat on dur­ing Mass and a Catholic pi­geon breeder pro­vided the white pi­geons that Bos­nia’s three pres­i­dents and Fran­cis set free in a sign of peace at the end of their meet­ing.

Re­minders of the dev­as­ta­tion of war and lin­ger­ing ten­sions were close at hand: Fran­cis’ mo­tor­cade passed by the open mar­ket where a mor­tar shell fired from the sur­round­ing hills on Feb. 5, 1994 killed 68 peo­ple in one of the blood­i­est sin­gle at­tacks of the war. Af­ter an­other shell landed on the mar­ket in 1995, NATO launched airstrikes against Bos­nian Serb po­si­tions that brought the Serbs to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, re­sult­ing in the Dayton peace ac­cords.

The area is still a mar­ket, but a wall painted red has tags with the names of the vic­tims.

“We all need peace and to re­ceive the pope’s mes­sage,” said Alma Mehmedic, a 55-year-old Mus­lim who waited for a glimpse of Fran­cis out­side the pres­i­den­tial palace. “I came to­day to give love and re­ceive love.”

De­spite the out­ward show of har­mony, wounds still fes­ter two decades later. Bos­nia’s Chris­tian Or­tho­dox Serb want a break­away state; Mus­lim Bos­ni­aks want a uni­fied coun­try; and Ro­man Catholic Croats want their own au­ton­o­mous re­gion. Many Catholics with Croa­t­ian pass­ports have sim­ply left to find bet­ter for­tunes in the Euro­pean Union, es­cap­ing an un­em­ploy­ment rate of 43 per­cent.

“We are sorry to say, each day there are fewer of us,” Cardinal Vinko Puljic told Fran­cis at the end of Mass.


Pope Fran­cis waves to the crowd as he ar­rives to cel­e­brate a Mass at the Ko­sevo sta­dium, in Sara­jevo, Bos­nia-Herze­gov­ina on Satur­day, June 6.

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