Sarajevo: Francis in the footsteps of the Slav Pope
(Vatican Radio) When Francis makes a one day trip to the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, on Saturday 6th of June he won’t be the first pope to visit this city.
He follows in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II, the Slav Pope who visited this nation twice during his over a quarter of a century pontificate. The last time was in 2003 whereas the first in 1997, two years after peace accords had brought an end to a four year war.
Listen to a programme presented and produced by Veronica Scarisbrick:
Memorable is his attempt to be with his fellow Slavs in Sarajevo before that date when war still raged in its streets. It was 1994 and he had scheduled a visit there. But it was cancelled as it had not been deemed safe for him to visit a city under siege. One which at the time was being shelled.
However he chose not to abandon the people there, he did not lose heart. His response, to not being allowed to join them, rested in a powerful homily delivered during Holy Mass in Castel Gandolfo and broadcast to this city on radio and TV on the 8th of September of that year. The very same homily he had planned to deliver in Sarajevo. And in this homily the cry for peace to the Father resonated in the square bringing with it the horrors of the Balkan city under siege.
“Our Father, who art in heaven”, he prayed:
“I Bishop of Rome, the first Slav Pope , kneel before you and shout. Free us from the plague, hunger and war”…
“Our Father who art in heaven,” he continued, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”:
“The temptation of ethnical prejudice provokes indifference to the rights of others and their suffering. The temptation of exasperated nationalism leads to a subjugation of the other and a lust for vengeance. These are all temptations expressed in a civilisation of death.
An end must be put to such savagery. Enough with war! Enough with the destructive fury of these barbaric acts! It is no longer possible to tolerate a situation which can only lead to death: killings, cities razed to the ground, a wrecked economy, hospitals short of medical supplies, the sick and the elderly left to themselves, families in tears and torn apart…A just peace must be reached at the earliest. Peace is possible if the priority of moral values is recognised over ethnic claims”.
Three years later he planned to visit Sarajevo once again. It was April 1997 and the war was over. The day had come at last when he could celebrate Holy Mass in Sarajevo, physically be with his fellow Slavs.
It was bitterly cold and the town was swept by blustery winds and a billowing snow storm. But the people came all the same and gathered around him within sight of the graves of the victims of this war. Graves which are still in place across central Sarajevo and beyond today as a bitter reminder of the ravages that occurred.
Many had come from afar bearing flags that echoed the divisions that kept apart the nation’s three main groups, Catholic Croats, Eastern Orthodox Serbs and Bosnian Muslims. And it was for them that he symbolically released into the chilly air, three doves as three symbols of peace.
Already upon his arrival in Bosnia and Herzegovina he had pronounced those words we so often heard during his over a quarter of a century pontificate: “Never again war” ..Leaving behind him when he departed a message of reconciliation and forgiveness. One he would reiterate when he returned there six years later in 2003. One Pope Francis will certainly bring with him to Sarajevo on Saturday 6th of June.