World meeting for peace opens in war-wounded Sarajevo

2012-09-09 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio)-- Religious and government officials from around the world are gathering for what organizers have called the "largest ever world meeting for peace" in Sarajevo since the end of the Bosnian War. Vatican Radio correspondent Stefan J. Bos reports:

The gathering in Bosnia Herzegovina is organized by the Catholic Church-backed Community of Sant’Egidio and the Archdiocese of the Bosnian capital with the Balkan country's Serbian Orthodox Church and Islamic and Jewish Communities.

Twenty years after Serbian forces began siege of Sarajevo, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch
was among those arriving Sunday with a message of peace.

He led a massive Orthodox Church Service in the heart of Sarajevo, aimed at expressing hope
in a city that is still recovering from the wounds of history.

RECONCILIATION MASS

The patriarch later went to Sarajevo's Cathedral of Jesus' Heart, Bosnia's largest Catholic church,
where he met Cardinal Vinko Puljić for a historic mass of reconciliation.

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej made clear he "was glad to celebrate mass and to visit Sarajevo" which was devastated by war. He also appealed to everyone "to end the decline of the number of Christians in Sarajevo." The patriarch said "it was time to solve the common problems of Muslims, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians" and other groups living here.

That message was shared by Bosnian Cardinal Vinko Puljic who said that “God doesn't show favoritism.”

He stressed that as “a person who has lived and survived through a brutal war” he realized that "great disaster has befallen the people of this country".

HEALING WOUNDS

The cardinal said he prays to "the Lord to heal all wounds”.

Yet, he also warned that while "Prayer was the strength in bearing the horrors of war" there were
"clouds of despair on the horizon" in the post-war, still ethnically divided and economically
troubled nation.

That is why, he stressed, "it is important that a powerful message of peace may rise from
Sarajevo" for all ethic and religious groups in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Sunday's Mass came at the start of what is seen as the largest and most important
international gathering for peace since the end of the Bosnian war.

About 1,000 religious and other officials from dozens of countries are attending the
three-day World Meeting for Peace, which is held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the
Siege of Sarajevo and the outbreak of the Bosnian war.

ETHNIC CLEANSING

Some 100,000 people died and 2 million people were forced from their homes as Bosnia
gave the lexicon of war the term "ethnic cleansing".

In Sarajevo alone about 11,500 people, including 600 children died, in the 43-month siege
by Serb forces that held the hilltops.

Slow-motion intervention eventually brought peace, but at the cost of ethnic segregation.

Yet religious leaders said they now want to continue to spread the message of hope and
renewal, in the footsteps of late Pope John Paul II who made a historic visit to Sarajevo in
1997.