Pope Francis urged Bosnians on Saturday to put the “barbarity” of war behind them and to seek lasting ethnic and religious harmony for a peaceful future during his one-day visit to Sarajevo.
Encouraging reconciliation between Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics, Francis referenced the painful memory of the three-way war of the 1990s.
“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,” he said in Kosevo stadium, addressing 65,000 people, most of them Catholics.
He was welcomed into Sarajevo, a mostly Muslim city of 300,000, by thousands of cheering Bosnians who lined his motorcade route. An extra 100,000 people were expected to arrive in the city for his visit.
“We all need peace and to receive the pope’s message,” said Alma Mehmedic, a 55-year old Muslim who waited outside the presidential palace to catch a glimpse of Francis. “I came today to give love and receive love.”
Sarajevo, once a symbol of ethnic and religious diversity in socialist Yugoslavia, suffered severely during the civil war from 1992 to 1995 which left 100,000 dead and displaced over 2.2 million people, leaving many traumatised survivors behind.
“You know this well,” Francis said of the trials endured by Bosnians, “having experienced here: how much suffering, how much destruction, how much pain!”
Reading his homily in Italian, Francis criticised the weapons industry, condemning “those who speculate on wars for the purpose of selling arms.”
Francis met with the three-member Bosnian presidency earlier on Saturday, when he said the peace initiatives between Bosnia’s Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks showed that “even the deepest wounds can be healed by purifying memories and firmly anchoring hopes in the future.”
Mladen Ivanic, the Serb chairman of the three-member presidency, said “we believe that the times of misunderstandings, intolerance and division are behind us forever, that we have learned our lessons from the past and that new times are ahead of us, times of reason, reconciliation, and cooperation.”
Cooperation and reconciliation may be goals that are hard to attain, as Muslim Bosniaks seek a more centralised and stronger state, while Orthodox Serbs want to secede and Roman Catholic Croats are interested in creating their own autonomous region.
Francis said he not only wants to inspire reconciliation in Bosnia but he also wants to encourage the Catholic Croat community, making up about 15 percent of the population. According to Vatican statistics, Muslim Bosniaks account for 40 percent and Orthodox Christian Serbs 31 percent.
Because of the unemployment rate in the country that stands at 43 percent for the general population and at 67 percent for youth, many Catholics have left Bosnia for the greener pastures of the European Union.
“The pope cannot create jobs for us or improve the political situation in our country, but he can give us hope and strengthen our faith,” said Stipe Turalija, a Bosnian Croat youth.