Pope Francis’ visit to war torn Bosnia has seen him speak out about his concerns for a third world war, as well as condemn war profiteers and those who fight against world peace. Speaking in the country’s capital, Sarajevo, Francis urged the people of Bosnia not to forget the suffering they have experienced during the country’s conflicts, but to use them as an example for tolerance and diversity around the world.
Francis’ 11 hour visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday, June 6, saw the pontiff meet with representatives of Bosnia’s Jewish and Muslim communities, visit the presidential palace and hold mass in the Olympic stadium for a crowd of approximately 65,000. The trip is a first for the Pope, who was elected by papal conclave in 2013, and only the second time a pontiff has visited the war torn country. Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1997.
Bosnia and Herzegovina endured a horrific three year long war following the break up of Yugoslavia in 1997. The bitter conflict, fueled by religious opposition, saw over 100,000 dead and half of the country’s population seeking refuge. The conflict was characterized by some of the worst human rights violations the 20th century had seen, including ethnic cleansing, systematic rape and the indiscriminate bombing of citizens. One of the largest of these atrocities occurred in July 1995, when 8,000 Muslims were massacred by ethnic Serbs.
Pope Francis urged the survivors of the war to remember their pain and suffering and to use it as an example of strength for the rest of the world. He asked them to set an example for diversity, tolerance and peace. During the Bosnian visit, where only 15 percent of the residents identify as Catholic, he urged all Catholics to stand beside their countrymen as witnesses to their faith and to the love of God, as well as working towards a society that “walks towards peace, coexistence and collaboration.” Francis is well known, and well loved, for his diplomacy and is a hard working advocate of world peace. Roman Catholics around the world would not have been surprised to see the pontiff use his Bosnia visit as an opportunity to condemn war profiteers, slam corrupt governments and encourage interfaith dialogue.
Speaking to a crowd of reporters in Sarajevo, the Holy See recalled the history of Jerusalem and likened the troubles to that in the Balkans. As Bosnia continues to face divisions between its people some 20 years after the end of the war, the pontiff commented on how both Bosnia and Jerusalem are countries full of different cultures and religious viewpoints and how they share histories of conflict and violence. He referred to Sarajevo as the “Jerusalem of the West” and explained that the purpose of his trip was to spread peace and promote reconciliation.
The papal visit did not come without complications. Security measures were tight amidst claims that Islamic State members had called for Muslims to take up Jihad and attack the Balkans. Despite this, 100,000 citizens of Bosnia lined the streets of Sarajevo to enthusiastically welcome the Pope’s motorcade to the city. Those citizens then listened to the religious leader during mass, which was conducted mainly in Italian, and heard Pope Francis’ sermon slam those who incite war for political and financial gain. He also attacked those who profit from war through arms dealing. Pointing out the true nature of war he highlighted the disasters of displacement and destroyed properties, as well as the personal cost to those involved, adding that war mainly affected children, women and the elderly, whose lives become shattered when forced to live in refuge camps. Pope Francis, in using his visit to Bosnia to condemn war profiteers, also showed his concerns for what he called a ” kind of third world war being fought piecemeal.”
In his condemnation of war profiteers and his insistence that the citizens of Bosnia turn their negative experiences into a lesson for diversity and peace, fans of peace keeper Francis will not be surprised by the reports coming out of Sarajevo regarding the Pope’s visit. All eyes now turn to see if he can work the same magic with Russian president Vladimir Putin when they meet at the Vatican on Wednesday, June 10.
By Alison Klippenstein
Wall Street Journal: Pope Francis Calls Bosnia’s Diversity a Basis for Peace
The New York Times: Pope Francis Urges a Divided Bosnia to Heal, Declaring ‘War Never Again!’
RT: ‘Third World War being fought piecemeal’: Pope Francis slams global ‘atmosphere of war’
CNN: Pope Francis urges peace on visit to Sarajevo, ‘Jerusalem of Europe’
Photo Courtesy of Aleteia Image Department Flickr Page, Photo by Jeffrey Bruno – Creative Commons License
In Line Photo Courtesy of Spabat-Mostar’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License