Programme of Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Sarajevo
(Vatican Radio) Details of Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit to Sarajevo on Saturday June 6th were released by the Vatican press office on Thursday. The one day visit, focused on the themes of peace and reconciliation, comes 18 years after Pope John Paul II visited the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina that had recently emerged from the longest siege in the history of modern warfare.
Philippa Hitchen reports:
‘Peace be with you’ is the motto for this 8th pastoral visit of Pope Francis, encapsulated in the logo depicting a dove with an olive branch in its beak. It’s a poignant theme for the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, still trying to recover from the devastating three year war which followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
The country of just under four million people is divided into the majority Bosnian Muslim community, or Bosniaks, who number about 40 percent. They’re followed by a sizeable Serbian, mainly Orthodox, population and a smaller group of largely Catholic Croats, comprising about 15 percent of the nation’s inhabitants.
Around two million people, or half the population, fled from their homes during the war that was brought to an end by a peace deal, signed in Dayton, Ohio. That agreement set up a Bosniak-Croat Federation and a separate Bosnian Serb Republic, under a central government with rotating presidency. Overseeing the fragile peace is an international administration that was backed first by NATO forces and later by a European Union-led peacekeeping force.
On June 6th, the Croat member of the three-man presidency will welcome Pope Francis at the airport in Sarajevo at 9am and accompany him to the presidential palace for a private meeting. After that he will give an address to the civil authorities and diplomatic corps before travelling to the city’s Olympic stadium to celebrate Mass.
After a private lunch with the six bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Pope will meet with local priests, religious and seminarians in the Catholic cathedral, before travelling to a nearby Franciscan student centre for an ecumenical and interfaith encounter with leaders of the local Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox communities.
Pope Francis’ final stop in Sarajevo will be at a youth centre dedicated to Pope St John Paul II, where he’ll hear firsthand about the many challenges facing young people in the country which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe today. The papal place is scheduled to leave Sarajevo at 8pm and arrive back in Rome at around 9.20 on Saturday evening.