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Sarajevo Cardinal: Pope John Paul II helped, but much remains to be resolved

2015-02-27

On February 1st, Pope Francis delivered a surprise announcement about the destination of an upcoming trip outside of Italy.

POPE FRANCIS
"I will go to Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina."

He will visit the country on June 6th. Sarajevo Cardinal Vinko Pulji hopes the trip will help heal wounds from the wars that ravaged the Balkans during the 1990s.

CARD. VINKO PULJI
Archbishop of Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
"I said, 'Holy Father, you need to come to our country to support us.' I wrote to him: 'Holy Father, you can come for just one day. It is not far, just an hour by plane.' And he said yes."

The fall of communism and the disintegration of Yugoslavia triggered a bloody war between different ethnic and religious groups. The Bosnian Muslims, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats all fought.

In Bosnia, the war lasted from 1992 to 1995. An estimated 100,000 people were killed and nearly 2 million became refugees.

CARD. VINKO PULJI
Archbishop of Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
"During the war, millions of mortar rounds fell from the sky. I was cut off and could not communicate with my priests. Eventually, I found a secret way out and was able to provide encouragement to priests and the faithful."

Pope John Paul II had to wait until the conflict ended in 1997 before he could visit Sarajevo. During the war years, he constantly appealed for peace and sent messages of hope to the population.

POPE JOHN PAUL II
1995 Meeting with young people in Loreto (Italy)
"To those of you who cannot join in this wonderful celebration because the war keeps you in isolation: We are close. We are with you.”

CARD. VINKO PULJI
Archbishop of Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
"He gave a message of encouragement and hope to all people. He also opened the way for dialogue and coexistence. This, thank God, still remains. There is a good climate but it is still not stable."

Years later, in 2003, John Paul II came to promote reconciliation during a time of intense tension.

The war provoked countless crimes and some groups sought revenge against others. Many of the country's 800,000 Catholics were forced to leave their homes. The population was cut in half. 

Pope Francis is expected to encourage the country's authorities to actively promote reconciliation and support religious freedom. Communism left a deep imprint on state structures and much remains to be done.


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