SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Pope Francis heard about the horrors of Bosnia’s fratricidal war of the 1990s and its slow process of healing Saturday as he visited Sarajevo to urge Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics to put the “barbarity” of the past behind them and work together for a peaceful future.
Thousands of cheering Bosnians gave Francis a joyous welcome, lining his motorcade route through the mostly Muslim city of 300,000. Another 65,000 people, most of them Catholics, packed the same Sarajevo stadium where St. John Paul II presided over an emotional post-war Mass of reconciliation in 1997.
Francis said he was coming to Sarajevo for a daylong trip to encourage the process of peace and reconciliation and show his support for Bosnia’s tiny Catholic community. With Croat passports in hand, many Catholics have fled high unemployment in Bosnia to search for better opportunities in the European Union.
The most poignant moment of the day came when two Catholic priests and a nun told Francis of their experiences during the war, of having been kidnapped, tortured and starved by Muslim or Serb Orthodox Christian troops and threatened with death. Moved by the testimony, Francis bowed down to one of them and asked for his blessing.
Speaking off-the-cuff, Francis told the gathering of priests and nuns in Sarajevo’s cathedral that they must never forget the “cruelty” inflicted on their fellow Catholics — not to seek vengeance, but to show the power of forgiveness.