Pope Francis met with leaders of the prominent religions represented in Bosnia and Herzegovina during his day-trip its capital, telling them that if fraternal dialogue is fostered, the country — once torn by war and ethnic divisions — could become sign of peace for the world. “In a world unfortunately rent by conflicts, this land can become a message: attesting that it is possible to live together side by side, in diversity but rooted in a common humanity, building together a future of peace and brotherhood,” the Pope said June 6. He made his comments during an encounter in Sarajevo with local leaders of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Judaism, and Islam. Historically divided into three key ethnic groups, Bosnia and Herzegovina is composed of a majority of Muslim Bosniaks, followed by a large percentage of mostly Orthodox Serbs and a population of Croats, a majority of whom are Catholic. There is a small Jewish community, which has a long history in Sarajevo. As city whose recent past “sadly became a symbol of war and destruction,” Sarajevo can become can become “a sign of unity, a place in which diversity does not represent a threat but rather a resource, an opportunity to grow together” thanks to its variety of peoples, cultures, and religions, he said.
Earlier in the day Pope Francis met with the country’s presidency and authorities before saying Mass in Sarajevo’s Kosevo Stadium. He then lunched with the nation's bishops before meeting with priests, religious, and seminarians in the cathedral. Ethnic tensions broiled during the country’s 1992-1995 war, during which the Serb population began a policy of ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Croats. The war ended in with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. In his speech to the religious leaders, Pope Francis stressed that their work in the region is immensely important, particularly because Sarajevo “stands as the crossroads of peoples and cultures.” He stressed the importance of interreligious dialogue as “an indispensable condition for peace, and for this reason is a duty for all believers.” “Interreligious dialogue, before being a discussion of the main themes of faith, is a conversation about human existence,” he said, explaining that through dialogue a spirit of fraternity is developed, which unites peoples and promotes moral values, as well as justice, peace, and freedom. “Dialogue is a school of humanity and a builder of unity, which helps to build a society founded on tolerance and mutual respect,” the Pope continued. Because of this, interreligious dialogue can't be limited to just a few or even to the leaders of religions, but must extend “as far as possible” to all believers and levels of civil society, Francis said. “For dialogue to be authentic and effective, it presupposes a solid identity: without an established identity, dialogue is of no use or even harmful. I say this with the young in mind, but it applies to everyone.” The Pope said religious leaders are the “first guardians” of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and assured them of the Church’s continued support and willingness to help. Though a lot of progress has been made in the 20 years since the conclusion of the country’s war, “we are all aware that there is a long way yet to go,” he observed. However, Pope Francis told them not to be discouraged by difficulties, but to continue moving forward “with perseverance along the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.” “While we seek to recall the past with honesty, thereby learning the lessons of history, we must also avoid lamentation and recrimination, letting ourselves instead be purified by God who gives us the present and the future: he is our future, he is the ultimate source of peace.” Later, Pope Francis met with Bosnia’s youth in an outdoor encounter, during which the young people performed songs and dances for the Pope. Two testimonies were also given by youth on their experience living in a multiethnic, multi-religion society. Francis tossed aside his prepared remarks and decided to have a question and answer with the youth instead. In addition to talking about the importance of exercising prudence over how often they watch TV as well as what they watch, the Pope spoke about the love and joy of young people, and his expectations for them when it comes to peace. “Everyone talks about peace, some powers speak saying beautiful things, but from underneath they sell weapons,” he said. What he expects from them as the first generation after their country’s war is honesty, Francis said, explaining that it should be an honesty “between what you think, feel, and what you do. The opposite is called hypocrisy.” He spoke of the importance of building bridges between peoples rather than walls, explaining that “a bridge always unites when it is used to go to each other, but when it’s a forbidden bridge it becomes the ruin of a city and of an existence.” “You, the spring flowers after war, make peace, work for peace, all together, so that this will be a country of peace. This is the homework I leave with you: make peace all together.”