During a recent conference in Bosnia discussing interreligious violence Cardinal Vinko Puljic spoke of the country’s historic divisions, stating that Catholics face great persecution due to a lack of ethnic equality. “We Catholics are in a grave position. There is no equality and this is a problem. There is no equality in the Serbian Republic, there is no equality in the federation” the cardinal explained to CNA June 17. “Where there is no equality, it isn’t possible to live in peace.” Cardinal Puljic is the sixth and current Archbishop of the Vrhbosna diocese in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and participated in a June 16-17 Oasis conference discussing the temptation of violence among religions. Held in Sarajevo, Bosnia, the conference brought together various international experts who discussed the theme “The Temptation of Violence: Religions between War and Reconciliation” in light of the 100 year anniversary of the First World War that began in the city with the 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia. The cardinal noted the significance of holding a conference on violence in the city of Sarajevo because of the country’s religious and ethnic diversity. “Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country where we live together as Christians, Muslims, Jews but also where there are Christian traditions, Orthodox, Catholics,” he said. “This conference is very important to give an impulse not only for us Christians, but also for Muslims.” Cardinal Puljic hoped the country could be a model of religious tolerance, cautioning that this “doesn’t depend only on communities of different religions.” It also depends on “the international community and the local politics who need to create equality.” Historically divided into three key ethnic groups, Bosnia-Herzegovina is composed of a majority of Muslim Bosniaks followed by a large percentage of mostly Orthodox Serbs and a great population of Croats, who are a majority Catholic. The cardinal ascribed the complexity of the situation to a series of wars — the most recent being the Bosnian War of 1992-1995 in which the country’s Serb population began a policy of ethnic “cleansing” in large areas of Bosnia inhabited by non-Serbs and Muslim, Croat and Serb populations who opposed their army. Catholics are a minority whereas the Serbian Republic is mostly Orthodox and the Federation is a majority Muslim, the cardinal said. “Europeans always speak about Christians but for us it is very different. When we speak of Christians, we are about half-and-half, half Christian, half Muslim,” he said. “But also the Christians are not in the same situation, because (for) us Catholics it’s very important to create a climate of ecumenism,” the cardinal noted, drawing attention to how there are currently “great tensions between Orthodox Christians and Muslims” in Bosnia. So “we Catholics are like catalysts between them. We want to create tranquility” and “a climate of dialogue” he continued, stating that although it’s not possible to solve every problem, it’s “necessary to always talk in order to destroy prejudice.”
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