Moved by the testimony of two priests and a religious sister who endured atrocities during the Bosnian War, Pope Francis on Saturday told a gathering of Bosnian priests, religious and seminarians that forgiveness is an essential part of their vocation.
“Some of their words have remained in my heart,” Pope Francis said after their remarks, “and one is forgiveness.”
“A consecrated who doesn't know how to forgive isn't needed. To forgive a friend who said something bad isn't hard, but to forgive those who torture, those who threaten to kill you, this is hard — and then to have done it and to preach doing so.”
The Pope met with some 200 consecrated persons June 6 in the cathedral of Sarajevo. The Bosnian religious were represented by three testimonials: Fr. Zvonimir Matijevic, a priest who was tortured several times in the course of the Bosnian War, and fell ill with muscular dystrophy as a result. Next was Fr. Jozo Puškaric, a friar who, despite having been tortured in prison and hoped to die, forgave his tormentors. Finally there was Sr. Ljubica Šekerija, FDC, who was ready to die rather than to see her rosary trampled, and who refused to convert to Islam despite having the barrel of a gun pointed at her head.
Pope Francis exchanged a long and moving embrace with all three, kissing the hands of the priest and receiving a blessing from Fr. Zvonimir.
“I prepared a speech for you all,” Pope Francis said after they spoke, “but after hearing these testimonies, I feel the need to speak to you off the cuff. They talked about life, they talked about experiences. They have spoken about life, experiences, many beautiful and ugly things. The testimonies spoke for themselves and this is the memory of your people.”
He reflected that “a people who forgets their memory, has no future. This is the memory of your fathers and mothers in the faith: behind them are many others who have suffered the same. You don't have the right to forget your history! Not to avenge yourselves but to make peace, to love as they have loved.”
“In your blood, in your vocation, there is the blood and the vocation of these three martyrs. There is the blood of and the vocation of many priests, seminarians, and religious … hold on to the memory, in order to make peace.”
The Pope also reflected on the hardships of living a common life in comparison to the Fr. Puškaric's four months in a prison camp: “how many times the spirit of the world makes us forget the suffering of our ancestors … to live together, dirty, without food or water in the heat and in the cold and during a long time … and we complain when we have a tooth that hurts or when we want a TV in our room with many comforts … and we gossip about the superiors when the food isn't so good. [But] don't forget these testimonies! Think about how much they have suffered, think about those six liters of blood that Fr. Zvonimir received in order to survive and to carry out a life worthy of the cross of Christ.”
He called worldly sisters, priests, bishops and seminarians “a caricature” proclaiming, “they aren't needed, they don't have the memory of the martyrs, they have lost the memory of Christ crucified, our only glory.”
Pope Francis reflected on two Muslims who aided Sr. Šekerija, a Bosniak soldier and a woman. “Even the cruel man has felt the Holy Spirit,” he said, and called the woman someone “beyond religious differences; she believed in God.”
“Search for the good — all of us are children of God! Blessed are you who have these testimonies so close to you. Please, don't forget them. Your life grows with this memory. Fr. Zvonimir lost his loved ones but he has the fruit of matrimonial love. Think about that nun martyr or the Franciscan friar and what Cardinal Puljic said comes to my mind: it's a bad thing when the garden that is the family doesn't flourish.”
He exhorted those gathered in the cathedral to “pray for families so that they flourish with children and flourish with vocations.”
“You are witnesses of fraternity, tenderness, and love,” he said. “Carry forward the cross of Christ: Holy Mother Church wants you to be little martyrs, small witnesses of the cross of Christ."