Pope Francis tells Sarajevo crowd ‘war never again’

Some 65,000 gather in Olympic Stadium to hear pontiff’s call for Balkan reconciliation

Pope Francis  gives his blessing to thousands of the faithful cheering upon his arrival in the popemobile to celebrate a mass at Sarajevo’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images.

Pope Francis gives his blessing to thousands of the faithful cheering upon his arrival in the popemobile to celebrate a mass at Sarajevo’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images.

 

The cry of God’s people goes up once again from Sarajevo - war never again. With those words, Pope Francis on Saturday encouraged the Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic communities of Bosnia along the difficult road to peace and reconciliation in the wake of the ethnic hatred which 20 years ago cost the lives of 100,000 people in a four year long bloody conflict.

Speaking to 65,000 mainly Cathoic faithful in Sarajevo’s Olympic Stadium, the pope said: “War means children, women and the elderly in refugee camps; it means forced displacement of peoples; it means destroyed houses, streets and factories; it means, above all, countless shattered lives. You know this well, having experienced it here: how much suffering, how much destruction, how much pain.

“Today, dear brothers and sisters, 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!. Within this atmosphere of war, like a ray of sunshine piercing the clouds, resound the words of Jesus in the Gospel: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Mt 5:9).”

Earlier, Pope Francis had told the current president of Bosnia and Herzgovenia, Mladen Ivanivic that he had come to Sarajevo as “a pilgrim of peace and dialogue”.

Peaceful co-existence

Recalling the 1997 visit of his predecessor Pope John Paul II, just two years after the signing of the Dayton agreement which formally ended the conflict, Francis said that he was “pleased to be in this city which has once again become a place of dialogue and peaceful co-existence”.

The pope also called for “the solidarity and collaboration of the International Community” in order to help with the process of peace and dialogue, saying: “I am happy to see the progress which has been made...However, we should not become complacent with what has been achieved so far, but rather seek to make further efforts towards reinforcing trust and creating opportunities for growth in mutual knowledge and respect. In order to favour this path, the solidarity and collaboration of the International Community is fundamental...”

Calling Bosnia “an integral part of Europe”, the pope said that the “peace and harmony among Croats, Serbs and Bosnians” as well as the “cordial and fraternal relations among Muslims, Hebrews and Christians” take on an importance that goes beyond the boundaries of Bosnia.

Such “initiatives” prove that “a plurality of cultures and traditions can coexist” and that “even the deepest wounds can be healed by purifying memories and firmly anchoring hopes in the future”.

Srebrenica choir

One of the most symbolic moments of this trip came during the morning mass when a mixed choir of Muslims and Christians from Srebrenica performed a song called “Love People” for the pope.

Srebrenica is the small Bosnian town which in July 1995 experienced Holocaust-type horror when, under the noses of Dutch UN forces, 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred by the Republika Srpska (VRS) forces of Serbian general Ratko Mladic.

To a major extent, the pope’s visit obviously represents a massive encouragement for the dwindling community of Bosnian Catholics which has gone from 760,000 in 1991 to some 500,000 today.

Currently, Bosnia is 40 per cent Bosnian Muslim, 31 per cent Serbian Orthodox and 15 per cent Catholic. Clearly, not only war related displacement 20 years ago but also 40-60 per cent youth unemployment today has seen many young Bosnians Catholics leave the country in search of work in neighbouring Croatia.

Despite the inevitable security concerns attached to a papal visit in a potentially explosive place like Sarajevo, Pope Francis did his usual best to play down the protocol. Not only did he do a tour of the Olympic Stadium in his open Popemobile but, at the end of the service, he hopped into the most modest car in the papal cavalcade, an ordinary Ford Focus, to make his way to his next appointment.

As he sat waiting for the cars to move off, the pope took the time to exchange words with a couple of Bosnian photographers, even leaning forward to the car window to lend himself to a professional Papal “selfie”.

The Pope’s busy day concludes this afternoon with meetings with meetings with Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish leaders as well as a rally with young people before returning to Rome on Saturday evening.