Bosnian Church welcomes the Pope: 'Let us show the world how strong we are!'

"Let us show the world, let us show Bosnia and Herzegovina how strong we are! Let us follow in the footsteps of peace, with a smile on our faces and with love in our hearts."

By Eva-Maria Kolmann 

SARAJEVO, Bosnia—For one youth pastor in Bosnia, a dream has come true: Pope Francis visited the country on June 6, 2015. Twenty years after the conclusion of a civil war in the former Yugoslavia that killed more than 240,000 and displaced more than 2 million, Pope Francis's message of peace will help heal lingering wounds—and put the spotlight on a nation that feels forgotten.

There are lots of issues that remain unresolved, said Father Simo Marsic, who will be the director of a new youth center built in the capital of Sarajevo. Looming large is the fact that—despite vigorous protests by Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo and Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka—EU subsidies earmarked for war refugees to rarely if ever reach needy citizens among the country’s Croatian Catholics.

These comprise the bulk of the Bosnian faithful who number 440,000, just half the total of Catholics that lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina prior to the 1992-1995 conflict. Those with Croatian surnames suffer discrimination when it comes to finding work, prompting many to emigrate.

Meeting at the new youth center in Sarajevo.jpg small.jpg

Yet, insists Father Marsic, the Bosnian Church is “very much alive.” Much credit, he said, goes to the work with youth in the Archdiocese of Sarajevo, whose new youth center will be named after Saint John Paul II. The Center will be open to all ethnic groups in the country and will be an ideal setting for international conferences: "Europe will come together here,” said the priest.

He added: "this center will be an open window on other religions and denominations and on other ways of thinking and living. In this way we can learn and live the art of tolerant and peaceful coexistence.”

Pope Francis met wtith young people of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the new Center. For Mandalena, a young Catholic, the papal visit was an opportunity for young people of the country to make their voices heard. She said: "let us show the world, let us show Bosnia and Herzegovina how strong we are! Let us follow in the footsteps of peace, with a smile on our faces and with love in our hearts.

“Let us draw strength from this historic event—strength for the future, to meet new challenges and for the battle against hopelessness, so that we can have a bright future in this country. Let us draw the strength to proclaim Christ, to love the Church and to respect other people."

Father Marsic said that “the visit of the Pope was huge encouragement, prompting young people to become still more strongly engaged in Church and society.” He is hopeful that the Center will be formally opened Oct. 22, 2015, the day the Bosnian Church will formally commemorate the Center’s patron, remembering in particular John Paul’s 2003 visit to Banja Luka, where he told young people to "to engage their energies, so that life can get back to full swing again at every level.” That, said the priest, “will be the mission statement of the Center!”

At Mass, at Sarajevo's Sacred Heart Cathedral June 6, the Pope linked local history to ongoing conflicts around the world:

“Some wish to incite and foment this atmosphere [of war] deliberately, mainly those who want conflict between different cultures and societies, and those who speculate on wars for the purpose of selling arms.

“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!”

Aid to the Church in Need will contribute $600,000 toward the completion of the John Paul II Youth Center in Sarajevo.

ACN photo: Meeting at the new youth center in Sarajevo

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