In Bosnia, the Scars Are Healing Slowly

Vicar General of Banja Luka Diocese Tells What Pope Will Find

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BANJA LUKA, Bosnia, JUNE 20, 2003 ( When John Paul II makes his 101st apostolic journey this Sunday, to Bosnia, he will find a nation on the mend.

The Fides news service spoke with Monsignor Anton Orlovac, vicar general of Banja Luka Diocese, who is also president of the local Church committee that is preparing the papal visit. The nine-hour visit will culminate with the beatification of Ivan Merz.

Q: What is the atmosphere as you await the arrival of the Pope?

Monsignor Orlovac: On the whole the climate is positive. Most people are waiting with joy for this most important event, the visit of the Holy Father, John Paul II.

Of course our situation is particular, but there are also those who show indifference, and some voices do not fit in with the general atmosphere. The media however, printed and electronic, is trying to build a positive climate.

Local politicians are also helping to build this climate. They say that the event is an opportunity to show our «maturity,» to show that Banja Luka is able to offer a worthy welcome to such an important guest.

Q: What kind of situation will the Pope find in the society and in the local Church?

Monsignor Orlovac: He will find a scarred society and a scarred Church. But the scars are gradually healing, although the process is long and arduous.

Unemployment, requests for homes not met, numerous exiles still unable to return to their homes, many people cannot live on what they earn — these are some of the problems which worry us. The local Church does all it can, mainly through Caritas, to alleviate these situations, but much help is still needed.

The Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina is half the size it was before the war. In Banja Luka the situation is even worse: The diocesan community, previously 130,000, today is only 42,000.

Q: On what fronts is the Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina most active?

Monsignor Orlovac: The Church shares the plight and sufferings of Catholics and all the people. As far as it is in our power, we try to help the people to live decently, to guarantee a minimum condition of life to repatriates. We also strive to help people remain here, not to leave their families.

In the religious field, the Church is committed to renewing and rebuilding ecumenical relations with Orthodox Christians, which were broken, and also to increase dialogue with the Muslim population. Once this is done, then there will come the time to rebuild churches and other church buildings, which will take years.

Q: The main purpose of the Pope’s visit is to beatify Ivan Merz, a great apostle of youth. What aspects of his spirituality are still important today?

Monsignor Orlovac: Ivan Merz is important for today in many ways. As an apostle of youth he showed that it is possible to be saints, even as lay believers, living among the people of our day.

Of course we must strive for holiness, building our inner life with the liturgy and the Eucharist, opening our eyes to the needs of others, and giving them concrete help. Saints are not strange people, they are people like you and me, living among us. We must discover them and follow them.

Today, young people are in search of examples; at times, they take the wrong path. In this sense Ivan Merz can be deeply inspiring for them. He will help them not to fall into the temptation of drug addiction, alcohol, laziness, apathy and irresponsibility — evils all too frequently present today.

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