Posted on 12. June 2015
On 6 June 2015, Pope Francis – Papa Franjo in Bosnian and Serbo-Croatian – visited Sarajevo. It was his first visit to Sarajevo and the third official visit of a Vatican representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Pope came to bring a message of peace to the Balkans, to Sarajevo, a place where different cultures meet, a place that is a true bridge between East and West.
Judging by the impressive number of visitors who came to Sarajevo, the promotional materials produced, the extent of the media coverage, the scale of the preparations and organisation and intensity of the security protocol, this could probably be described as the second most important event Bosnia and Herzegovina ever hosted since the signing of the Dayton Agreement, the peace agreement that put an end to the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.
No other foreign or national leader was able to motivate the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina as Pope Francis did during his visit on 6 June. Politicians from the region and the world who visit Bosnia and Herzegovina tend to polarise public opinion; people either love or hate them. But this unusual, modest Pope brought a unifying sense of peace to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was greeted by many citizens of Sarajevo and by visitors from other cities and countries in the world, regardless of their religion, culture, or customs. He addressed the audience with his warmest welcome at the 1984 Olympic Koševo stadium, where over 70.000 visitors joined to listen to his prayers for global peace.
I’m proud that Bosnia and Herzegovina, this “Jerusalem of Europe” as Pope Francis called it, responded in the best possible way. There was such a positive atmosphere, something that had not been seen in this city for a long time, and not only among Christians, but among members of other religions too. I think his visit showed Bosnia and Herzegovina as it truly is: multicultural and multinational, its citizens ready to welcome anyone with good intentions. Pope Francis might have broken through the stagnation of the peace process on his own, reversing two decades of ever-present nationalism in a single day.
It was very emotional to follow his visit to Sarajevo, and to listen to stories told by war victims, about the horrors of the war, but also about moments of hope, when the two sides showed humanity towards each other, proving that this city and the region is ready for a new chapter. Sarajevo itself is a monument of the centuries-old coexistence of different religions and cultures, where the architectural mix of synagogues, churches and mosques in proximity to one another is a testimony to its rightful nickname of “Jerusalem of Europe”.
“Steps to extend peace and good relations among Croats, Serbs and Bosnians, as well as Muslims, Hebrews and Christians have a significance that goes beyond Bosnia and Herzegovina’s borders.These initiatives offer a witness to the entire world that such cooperation among varying ethnic groups and religions in view of the common good is possible; that a plurality of cultures and traditions can coexist and give rise to original and effective solutions to problems; that even the deepest wounds can be healed by purifying memories and firmly anchoring hopes in the future,” were the words of Pope Francis at one of his many addresses during his visit to Sarajevo.
The eyes of the world were on Sarajevo again, but this time, it was because of something positive, with a positive message. Sarajevo has once more passed the test and showed the world that it is ready to become a rightful member of the European family, where being different is a good thing, something to be praised and loved. But is the European family ready to recognise it?