Pope in Sarajevo: building peace through dialogue and witness

Francis SarajevoInterreligious dialogue is “an indispensable condition for peace” and “a duty for all believers”.  That was Pope Francis’ reminder to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday afternoon as he met with leaders of the Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish communities gathered in a Franciscan youth centre in Sarajevo.

He was speaking in a city that in the early 1990s was torn apart by a vicious civil war that had both national and religious elements. The Pope’s speech urged that a city that became a symbol of war and destruction be an icon of unity, where diversity does not represent a threat but rather a resource and an opportunity to grow together in peace and harmony.

In the final speech of his day-long visit, Pope Francis addressed young people, urging them to be protagonists in the building of a more just, dignified and peaceful society.

The two speeches are key for understanding the Pope’s idea of a “culture of encounter”, a route-map for a healthy and humane coexistence in contemporary pluralist societies.

Pope Francis’ speech to Ecumenical and Interreligious representatives at the Franciscan International Study Centre in Sarajevo.

Your Eminence, Distinguished Religious Authorities, Dear Friends,

I am pleased to take part in this meeting, which brings together representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s religious confessions.  I offer cordial greetings to each one of you and to your communities, and I thank each of those who offered the kind words and we have just heard.

Today’s meeting is a sign of our shared desire for fraternity and peace; it is a testimony to the friendship and cooperation that has been developing over the years and which you already experience daily.  To be present here today is already a “message” of that dialogue which everyone seeks and strives for.

I wish especially to recall one of the fruits of this desire for encounter and reconciliation, namely, the establishment in 1997 of a local Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which brings together Muslims, Christians and Jews.  I am pleased by the work which this Council does to promote dialogue, coordinate common initiatives and develop relations with State Authorities.  Your work in this region is immensely important, particularly in Sarajevo, which stands as the crossroads of peoples and cultures.  Here, on the one hand, diversity constitutes a great resource which has contributed to the social, cultural and spiritual development of this region, while, on the other, it has also been the cause of painful rifts and bloody wars.

It is not by chance that the birth of the Council for Interreligious Dialogue and other valuable initiatives in the area of interreligious and ecumenical work came about at the end of the war, in response to the need for reconciliation and rebuilding a society torn apart by conflict.  Interreligious dialogue here, as in every part of the world, is an indispensible condition for peace, and for this reason is a duty for all believers (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 250).

Interreligious dialogue, before being a discussion of the main themes of faith, is a “conversation about human existence” (ibid.).  This conversation shares the experiences of daily life in all its concreteness, with its joys and sufferings, its struggles and hopes; it takes on shared responsibilities; it plans a better future for all.  We learn to live together, respecting each other’s differences freely; we know and accept one another’s identity.  Through dialogue, a spirit of fraternity is recognized and developed, which unites and favours the promotion of moral values, justice, freedom and peace.  Dialogue is a school of humanity and a builder of unity, which helps to build a society founded on tolerance and mutual respect.

For this reason, interreligious dialogue cannot be limited merely to the few, to leaders of religious communities, but must also extend as far as possible to all believers, engaging the different sectors of civil society.  Particular attention must be paid to young men and women who are called to build the future of this country.  It is always worth remembering, however, that 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.

I sincerely appreciate all that you have managed to accomplish up to this point and I encourage each of you in your efforts for the cause of peace of which you, as religious leaders, are the first guardians here in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I assure you that the Catholic Church will continue to offer her full support and willingness to help.

We are all aware that there is a long way yet to go.  Let us not be discouraged, however, by the difficulties, but rather continue 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.

This city, which in the recent past sadly became a symbol of war and destruction, today, with its variety of peoples, cultures and religions, can become again a sign of unity, a place in which diversity does not represent a threat but rather a resource, an opportunity to grow together.  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.

I am grateful to you all for your presence and for the prayers which you will, of your goodness, offer for my ministry.  For my part, I assure you that I will pray for you.  May the Lord bless us all.

Pope Francis’ prepared speech to the young people at the John Paul II Youth Centre in Sarajevo

Dear Young Friends,

I have greatly wished to have this meeting with you, young men and women of Bosnia and Herzegovina and nearby countries.  I offer to each one of you a warm greeting.  Being here in this Centre dedicated to Saint John Paul II, I cannot forget how much he did for young people, meeting them and encouraging them all around the world.  To his intercession I entrust each of you, as well as every initiative which the Catholic Church has undertaken in your land to express her closeness to young people and indeed her confidence in them.  We are on this journey together!

I know the doubts and the hopes that you have in your hearts.  Some of these have been expressed by Bishop Marko Semren and your representatives, Darko and Nadežda.  In a special way, I join you in hoping that new generations may be offered real prospects for a dignified future in your country, thus avoiding the sad phenomenon of mass migration.  In this regard, institutions are being called upon to put in place timely and courageous plans that will help young men and women to realize their legitimate aspirations; they will thus be able to contribute energetically to the upbuilding and growth of the country.  The local Church, for her part, can contribute by means of suitable pastoral projects, focusing on educating the civic and moral conscience of the youth, and so help them to be protagonists in society.  The Church’s commitment can already be seen, especially through the precious work of her Catholic schools, which are rightly open not only to Catholic students but to students of other Christian communities and other religions.  However, the Church must always dare to hope for more, starting from the Gospel and driven by the Holy Spirit who transforms persons, society, and the Church herself.

Young friends, you also have a decisive role to play in confronting the challenges of our times: certainly material challenges, but more so those which concern the vision of the human person.  In fact, along with economic problems, difficulty in finding work and the consequent uncertainty regarding the future, there is a crisis of moral values and a diminished sense of the purpose of life.  Faced with this critical situation, some may give in to the temptation to flee, to avoid the problems, becoming self-absorbed, taking refuge in alcohol, drugs, or ideologies which preach hatred and violence.  These are realities which I know well because they were unfortunately also present in Buenos Aires, where I come from.  Thus I encourage you not to let yourselves be overcome by the difficulties, but to let the strength that comes from your being human and Christian flourish without fear; you will be then be able to sow seeds of a more just, fraternal, welcoming and peaceful society.  Together with Christ, you young men and women are the vitality of the Church and society. If you let Christ form you, if you are open to dialogue with him in prayer, by reading and meditating upon the Gospel, you will become prophets and witnesses to hope!

You are called to this mission: to reclaim the hope in your present circumstances of being open to the wonders of living; the hope which you have to  overcome the way things are; hope to prepare for the future marked by a more dignified social and human environment; hope to live in a more fraternal world which is more just and peaceful, more genuine, worthier of the measure of mankind.  My hope is that you will be always more aware that you are sons and daughters of this earth which has given life to you.  This earth asks you to love her and to help her rebuild, to grow spiritually and socially, also with the help of your ideas and your work.  To overcome every trace of pessimism, you will need the courage to offer yourselves joyfully and with dedication to the building of a welcoming society, a society which is respectful of all differences and oriented towards a civilization of love.  An great example of this way of living is seen in Blessed Ivan Mert.  Saint John Paul II Beatified him in Banja Luka.  May he always be an example for you and be your protector.

The Christian faith teaches us that we are called to an eternal destiny, to be sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. 1 Jn 3:1), who create fraternity for the love of Christ.  I am so pleased by the ecumenical and interreligious works taken up by you, young Catholics and Orthodox, with the involvement of Muslim young people as well.  The John Paul II Youth Centre plays a central role in this important work, with initiatives that deepen mutual understanding and solidarity, allowing the various ethnic and religious groups to coexist peacefully together.  I encourage you to continue this work, dedicating yourselves to common projects with real gestures that show your closeness and support to the poorest and most needy.

Dear young people, your joyful presence, your thirst for truth and high ideals are signs of hope!  Being young does not mean being passive, but rather means being tenacious in your efforts to achieve important goals, even if this comes at a price.  Being young does not mean closing your eyes to difficulties: instead, it requires a refusal to compromise or be mediocre.  It does not mean escaping or fleeing, but engaging rather in solidarity with everyone, especially the weakest.  The Church counts on you and will continue to count on you who are generous and capable of great energy and noble sacrifices.  For this reason, together with your pastors I ask you: do not isolate yourselves, but rather be ever more united among yourselves so that you may enjoy the beauty of fraternity and be always more fruitful in your actions.

Everyone will see that you are Christians by how you, young Christians of Bosnia and Herzegovina, love one another and how committed you are to service.  Be not afraid; do not flee from reality; be open to Christ and to your brothers and sisters.  You are a vital part of that great people who make up the Church: a universal people, a people in whom all nations and cultures can receive God’s blessing and can discover the path to peace.  With this people, each of you is called to follow Christ and to give your life to God and to your brothers and sisters, in the way that the Lord will reveal to you, or perhaps is revealing to you now! Will you respond? Do not be afraid.  We are not alone.  We are always in the presence of God our heavenly Father, with Jesus our Brother and Lord, in the Holy Spirit; and we have the Church and Mary our Mother.  May she protect you and always give you the joy and courage to witness to the Gospel.

I bless each of you, and I ask you please to pray for me.


Texts: Vatican Radio

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