Postwar Church in Bosnia Still Rebuilding, Literally

Pope’s Trip Helped Highlight the Plight

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BANJA LUKA, Bosnia, JUNE 23, 2003 ( John Paul II’s visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina helped to draw the attention of Catholics worldwide to the need to reconstruct the Church in the country.

The destruction of churches and chapels was one of the most visible wounds of the 1992-95 war. In the Diocese of Banja Luka alone, which the Pope visited Sunday, 39 churches were destroyed and 22 suffered considerable damage. Nine chapels were destroyed and 14 were damaged; two convents were devastated and one severely damaged, as were 33 cemeteries.

In his greeting to the Holy Father during the Mass of beatification of Ivan Merz (1896-1928), Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka lamented: «By the will of the powerful of this land, today the Church in this region is on the edge of complete elimination.»

«Hundreds of thousands of Catholics are hoping to return to their own homes and parishes,» he said. «Despite the great wounds, we try to do good to everyone, seeking tirelessly to promote reconciliation based on truth, justice and genuine forgiveness.»

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), an association of pontifical right, has been helping with the reconstruction of churches in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Franciscan monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Petricevac, Banja Luka, from which the Pope offered and asked forgiveness for the crimes of the past, including those of Catholics, is an example of this task of reconstruction.

On the night of May 6-7, 1995, Serbian extremists of Petricevac destroyed the parish church and set the neighboring Franciscan monastery on fire, causing the death of one elderly friar. Shortly after, the faithful began to gather in the blackened ruins of the monastery to pray and to attend Mass celebrated by the Franciscans, who were lodged by the bishop of Komarica and nuns of the Blood of Christ of Banja Luka.

Two years later, the Franciscans decided to reconstruct the monastery. Given the difficult economic situation — the unemployment rate nears 50% — neither the Franciscans nor the diocese are in a position to finance this project. So ACN contributed 8,000 euros ($9,200) for this purpose.

Another project is the reconstruction of the parish Church of the Virgin’s Assumption in Jajce, a basilica with three naves, which was destroyed by Serbian forces on Nov. 4, 1992, together with part of the adjoining Franciscan monastery. ACN has contributed 15,000 euros to this project.

Another church under reconstruction is the Virgin’s Nativity in Koto Varos, built just before the war broke out, and burned no sooner the war began. ACN has contributed 10,000 euros to this endeavor.

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