Pope Francis has kicked off his one-day visit to the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This marks Francis’ fourth apostolic visit in Europe and eighth visit abroad
This morning, the Holy Father left the Vatican by helicopter at 7 a.m., and arrived at Sarajevo’s airport at about 9 a.m., where he was welcomed by the Croat member of the three-man presidency. He will accompany Francis to the presidential palace for a private meeting.
Immediately after, Francis will address civil authorities and diplomatic corps before traveling to the city’s Olympic Stadium to celebrate Mass. This is the same place where Pope John Paul II also celebrated Mass. The stadium can accommodate nearly 37,000 people.
The Pope then will lunch privately with the six bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who the Pope received in audience in the Vatican on March 16 for their five-yearly ad limina visit.
In the city’s Catholic Cathedral, which is relatively small, the Pope will meet with local priests, religious and seminarians. The Pope will hear testimonies that are likely to be “strong and dramatic.”
After listening to the testimonies, the 78-year-old Pope will visit a nearby Franciscan student center for an ecumenical and interfaith encounter with leaders of the local Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox communities. Each of the represented religion’s leaders is expected to greet the Holy Father. Francis will give a discourse, say a prayer, and greet those present.
The final stop on the Pope’s agenda will be a youth center dedicated to Pope St. John Paul II where Francis will give his last discourse of the day and where he will hear testimonies of young people from different faith orientations.
Francis’ flight is scheduled to leave Sarajevo at 8 p.m. and arrive back in Rome at around 9:20 p.m.
After the fall of communism and Yugoslavia’s disintegration, various religious and ethnic groups, including the Bosnian Muslims, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, fought. From 1992 to 1995, the war lasted in Bosnia, claiming nearly 100,000 lives and making some 2 million refugees.
While Pope John Paul II couldn’t visit during the conflict which ended in 1997, he repeatedly appealed for peace in the region. Eventually in 2003, he was able to visit Sarajevo. Francis, following his predecessor’s fearless example, is expected to encourage authorities to promote religious freedom and reconciliation.
The war-torn nation is still recovering, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, stated during a May 28 press conference detailing the visit. He said the current situation there is “very complex,” and that despite hopes to recover, effects of war, economic difficulties, and social tensions continue to take a toll.
The motto of the visit is ‘Peace be with you,’ he underscored, observing it is appropriate as the nation still suffers from the wounds of the war. The visit’s logo, he also recalled, depicts a dove with an olive branch in its beak.
On February 1, Pope Francis announced at the end of his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square that he would be traveling to Sarajevo with the goal of promoting reconciliation between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Cardinal Vinko Pulji, archbishop of Sarajevo, had invited the Holy Father and Francis accepted.
Of the Balkan nation’s nearly 4 million people, Bosnians make up 48%; Serbs, 37%; and Croats, 14%.
Also to be present during the trip, the Vatican spokesman pointed out, are Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.