Pope in Sarajevo, urges lasting ethnic and religious peace

Pope in Sarajevo, urges lasting ethnic and religious peace

SARAJEVO - Reuters
Pope in Sarajevo, urges lasting ethnic and religious peace

Pope Francis waves from the popemobile in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. AFP photo

Pope Francis urged Bosnians on June 6 to seek lasting ethnic and religious harmony to heal the deep, lingering wounds of the 1992-1995 war that devastated the former Yugoslav republic. 

"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 at a Mass for some 65,000 people at the stadium of the city that was once a symbol of ethnic and religious diversity in socialist Yugoslavia. 

This unwound in the war and Bosnia remains hamstrung by its legacy, divided along ethnic and religious lines. 

Francis listed the sufferings endured by Bosnians, mentioning refugee camps, destroyed houses and factories, and shattered lives. 

"You know this well, having experienced it here: how much suffering, how much destruction, how much pain!" he said, raising his voice as he read his homily in Italian. 

He issued another criticism of the weapons industry, condemning "those who speculate on wars for the purpose of selling arms."

Francis arrived in the city whose skyline is dotted by mosques and churches days after the entry into force of a landmark EU agreement on closer ties with Bosnia, part of a new Western initiative to encourage political and economic change. 

Earlier at a meeting with the three-member Bosnian presidency, Francis said 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." 

Catholics, the vast majority ethnic Croats, account for about 15 percent of Bosnia's 3.8 million people. They share power with Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Serbs in an unwieldy system of ethnic quotas laid down by a U.S.-brokered peace deal in 1995 and plagued by nationalist politicking. 

While Bosniaks would like a more centralized and stronger state, Serb leaders in their own autonomous region are growing bolder in threats to secede. Croat nationalists, too, are calling for the creation of their own entity within Bosnia. 

At the airport, the pope shook hands with each of some 150 children dressed in traditional costumes of all ethnic groups and later, in unprepared remarks, 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.