SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina, OCT. 7, 2002 (ZENIT.org–Avvenire).- Cardinal Vinko Puljic, archbishop of Sarajevo, has been discussing with representatives of European episcopates the difficulty of coexistence with Islam.
The cardinal has been the host of the plenary assembly of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE). Here, he talks about the demands of relations with the Islamic world.
Q: How are relations between Catholics and Muslims in Bosnia?
Cardinal Puljic: Ten years ago, before the war, they were very good. However, from that moment, the situation has changed.
The first sign was the arrival of humanitarian aid from Arab countries: It was distributed only to Muslims; it was prohibited to give it to Christians. Our Caritas, instead, made no ethnic or religious distinctions; everyone could benefit. However for them, the aid was a means to promote the Islamization of society.
Q: Does this process continue today?
Cardinal Puljic: Of course. They have not limited themselves to repair mosques damaged by the war. They have built very many new ones, more than 10 in Sarajevo alone, and, in addition, many Muslim schools, and an Islamic theology school.
A massive propaganda financed by Iran, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia has also been launched — propaganda that at times does not spare harsh attacks on the Christian religion. I must say that the chief ulema of the Muslim community of Bosnia has condemned these periodic attacks. Nevertheless, they cause concern.
Q: What are your personal relations like with leaders of Islam?
Cardinal Puljic: We work together in the Interreligious Council. We have explained that in 1992-1995 there was no war of religion, although among us, religious and ethnic identity tend to coincide and this creates problems. We are working on a plan for respect for religious liberty, which we will present to the authorities of the country.
Q: Is there religious liberty in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Cardinal Puljic: It is a complex matter. The Orthodox Church, considered a state church, is in the federation’s Serbian Republic. The Muslims rule in the Republic of Bosnia and, in fact, we are unable to get permission for the construction of new churches. Over the past 50 years, only one has been built in Sarajevo. I have been asking for permission to build three buildings for worship, but I have not yet received a reply.
Q: Is it a way of making life difficult for Catholics?
Cardinal Puljic: I don’t know. In fact, many faithful are thinking of emigrating. It is a very subtle, sinuous discrimination. We, as the Catholic Church, do not lose heart. One of our most important programs refers to multi-ethnic schools, which we wish to develop as much as possible.
Q: Are you afraid that Bosnia will become an Islamic state?
Cardinal Puljic: I hope it will continue to be a secular state where the principle of equality rules between various ethnic groups and religious confessions.
Q: What has changed in your country since the Sept. 11 attacks?
Cardinal Puljic: Muslim leaders have condemned terrorism but there are resentments in regard to the West. Many do not accept the request made by the United States to our authorities to check if members of al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations are hiding in Bosnia.
Q: Is it true that many Muslim combatants have remained, who came to help Bosnian Muslims during the war years?
Cardinal Puljic: Many of them have married and are now citizens of our country. I don’t know if they are terrorists, but I want to add something: The United States knew, since 1992, that there were foreign militias here of Muslim countries. But the U.S. didn’t say anything.
Then, when I pointed it out to a high U.S. official, he paid no attention to my observation. On the contrary, he accused me of narrow nationalism. Only after Sept. 11 have they started to cry out, scandalized.
Q: In your opinion, what should Europe do in face of Islam?
Cardinal Puljic: I’m afraid Europe still doesn’t know Islam well. It must wake up, not to launch new crusades but to be aware of the new challenge.
Muslims in Europe must be respected in their identity, as every religion must be in countries of Muslim majority. However, there must be insistence on the principle of reciprocity, it is a fundamental point. Europe itself is at stake, which cannot give up respect for liberty and the rights of the individual. And Bosnia, let this be clear, is in Europe.