The 12th of 13 children, his mother died when he was three. A year after his appointment as archbishop on November 19, 1990, the fighting began in Bosnia. During the siege of Sarajevo he was distinguished for his heartbreaking appeals for peace to the international community and the defense of the inalienable rights of the person. He risked his life, he was apprehended and imprisoned for 12 hours by the Serbian military. As a sign of closeness to the people stricken by the armed conflict, he was created cardinal at 49 by John Paul II in the Consistory of November 26, 1994. He is the first Bosnian cardinal in history. Among the offices he holds is that of member of the International Investigating Commission on Medjugorje.
ZENIT spoke with Cardinal Puljic. Asked what will happen with Medjugorje, the cardinal, who is a member of the International Commission that is examining the case, said he couldn’t say anything, and assured that he asks for Mary’s intercession.
Here is the interview:
ZENIT: How did you come to know the Charismatic Renewal?
Cardinal Puljic: I didn’t know Renewal in the Spirit. There are no groups of it in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the context of the Synod on the New Evangelization, Salvatore Martinez was in the same minor circle with me. He spoke to me about Renewal in the Spirit and invited me to come to Rimini. “All right,” I answered, “I want to know it.” There are few Movements in my country because during Communism they were prohibited. After the war, the situation was difficult. Now we want to foster the flowering of these groups.
ZENIT: What were the reactions in your country to Pope Francis’ election? What did the Muslims say?
Cardinal Puljic: I was astonished and in admiration of the reactions to Pope Francis’ election. In Bosnia-Herzegovina all the mass media, especially television, followed attentively the Conclave and the proclamation of the Pontiff. There was great enthusiasm, even Muslim journalists said “what a great man.” People think that “many positive energies are flowing from this election.”
On Maundy Thursday the Holy Father also washed the feet of a Muslim boy and a Muslim girl. This was a sign of love. The Holy Father wished to give a strong sign of love, the same as Jesus gave to the Apostles.
ZENIT: What should Europe do to aid peace and development in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Cardinal Puljic: When equality of rights is lacking it’s very difficult to establish a lasting peace. I live in Sarajevo. I’ve asked for permission to build a church. After 14 years, I’ve yet to receive the permission. When there are problems with other religions the international community intervenes, but when it’s a question of Catholics there isn’t the same care.
I think Europe must listen to our problems and help us to create a situation of normality. Where there is equality of rights there is peace. I see a certain slowness in Europe. The European Union should help us in seeking to foster development. In my country, 46% are unemployed. It’s a very grave problem, especially for young people, who emigrate. And a country without young people has no future. It’s very important to provide aid for development, fostering work activities. It’s also important to repair the damages of war. It’s easy to rebuild houses destroyed by the war, but it’s more difficult to heal the wounds in people’s hearts.