During his visit to Sarajevo to encourage reconciliation following the devastating three-way war of the 1990s, Pope Francis has urged Bosnians to work together to ensure lasting ethnic and religious harmony.
“The cry of God’s people goes up once again from this city, the cry of all men and women of good will: war never again,” the Pope said at a Mass for some 65,000 people in Sarajevo, once a symbol of Yugoslavia’s ethnic and religious diversity.
The war destroyed this solidarity, and Bosnia & Herzegovina remains divided along ethnic and religious lines. Pope Francis listed the sufferings endured by Bosnians, mentioning refugee camps, destroyed houses and factories, and shattered lives. He also issued a criticism of the weapons industry, condemning “those who speculate on wars for the purpose of selling arms”.
Earlier, meeting with the tripartite Bosnian presidency, made up of one Bosniak, one Croat and one Serb, Pope Francis said peace initiatives between Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks showed that “even the deepest wounds can be healed by purifying memories and firmly anchoring hopes in the future”.
Catholics, mostly ethnic Croats accounting for about 15 per cent of the country’s 3.8 million population, share power with Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Serbs in a system of quotas laid down by a US-brokered peace deal in 1995.
While Bosniaks want a more centralised state, Serb leaders in their own autonomous region grow louder in threats to secede. Croat nationalists, too, are calling for the creation of their own entity within the country.
At the airport, the Pope shook hands with around 150 children from all ethnic groups. Later, in unprepared remarks, he held them up as an example.
“I saw this hope today in the children who greeted me at the airport. Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic and other minorities together and joyful. That is hope. Let us bet on this hope,” he said.
“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.”