Below is a translation of the Pope’s address to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this morning in the Vatican on the occasion of their visit “ad Limina Apostolorum:”
Dear Brother Bishops,
The spiritual experience of the visit to the Tombs of the Apostles and the meeting with the Bishop of Rome is always an intense moment of faith and communion. I give you my cordial welcome and I thank you for having brought me the affection of your Churches and of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For my part, I am looking forward to going to your homeland next June to enjoy with your people how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity (Cf. Psalm 133:1).
I was able to read your reports with care and participation. With your hopes and your plans, and, together with you, I have prayed for all the inhabitants of the country and for all those who have been constrained to seek refuge abroad far from the warlike events, from unemployment and the lack of prospects.
Emigration is rightly one of the social realities you have most at heart. It evokes the difficulty of the return of so many of your fellow citizens, the scarcity of sources of work, the instability of families, the affective and social laceration of whole communities, the operative precariousness of different parishes, the still live memories of the conflict, be it at the personal or communal level, with the wounds of still sore souls. I know well that this arouses bitterness and concern in your spirit as Pastors. The Pope and the Church are with you with prayer and the effective support of your programs in favor of all those who dwell in your territories, without any distinction. Therefore, I encourage you not to spare any energies to sustain the weak, to help – in ways that are possible for you – all those who have legitimate and honest desires to remain in their land of birth, to take care of the spiritual hunger of those who believe in indelible values, born of the Gospel, which in the course of the centuries have nourished the life of your communities. Animated by the balm of faith, by your example and your preaching, they will be able to reinforce their own determination to the good. Of indispensable help to you in this work are your presbyters, who you tell me are generous, industrious and convinced pastors of the flock entrusted to themThe society in which you live has a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic dimension. To you is given the task of being fathers of all, even in the material restrictions and in the crisis in which you find yourselves acting. May your heart be ever wider to receive each one, as the heart of Christ is able to receive in itself, with divine love, every human being.
Every Christian community knows it is called to open itself, to reflect the light of the Gospel in the world. It cannot remain closed only in the ambit of its own though noble traditions. It must come out of its own “enclosure,” firm in the faith, sustained by prayer and encouraged by its pastors, to live and proclaim the new life of which it is the depository, that of Christ, Savior of every man. In this perspective, I encourage initiatives that can broaden the presence of the Church beyond the liturgical perimeter, assuming with imagination every other action that can influence society, bringing to it the fresh spirit of the Gospel. Every person is in need, even without knowing it, of encountering the Lord Jesus.
In your guidelines, seek to promote a solid social pastoral in your dealings with the faithful, especially young people, so that consciences will be formed that are willing to remain in their own territories as protagonists and responsible for the reconstruction and growth of your country, of which they cannot expect only to receive. In this educational-pastoral work, the Social Doctrine of the Church is of valid help. It is also a way to surmount old materialistic incrustations that sometimes persist in the mentality and the behavior of some sectors of the society in which you live.
Dear Brothers, your ministry assumes several dimensions: pastoral, ecumenical, and inter-religious. Thanks to your reports, I was able to know better the intense work that you carry out in these ambits, work that always expresses your paternity in your dealings with the people entrusted to you. I encourage you, reminding you that, though in respect of all, this does not exempt you from giving open and frank witness of belonging to Christ.
From their wisdom and experience in mixed communities, the priests, the men and women Religious and the lay faithful, who live in close contact with citizens of different religious traditions, can offer you valid advice on your conduct and your words. I believe that a similar sapiential approach can bring seeds and fruits of pacification, understanding and also collaboration.
4. A further aspect presented by you and which I intend to evoke, praising your pastoral sensibility, is that of the relation between your clergy and the religious. I know by direct experience the complexity of these relations, as well as the difficulty to harmonize the respective charisms. However, the most important fact is that, in both the dimensions, the one priesthood has always been pursued as the only mission: to serve the Kingdom of God. And this goes to praise and honor these apostolic strengths, which dedicate their every energy to this service. I remember what Saint John Paul II said, with inspired words, at Sarajevo in the course of his visit in April of 1997; it seems to me they are prophetic also today: the Bishop is a father: he knows that every perfect gift comes from God (Cf. Address to the Bishops, April 13, 1997, 4).
In this year, dedicated to Consecrated Life, we must show how all charisms and ministries are destined to the glory of God and the salvation of all men, taking care that they are effectively oriented to the building of the Kingdom of God and not iniquitously to partial ends; that they are exercised in a regime of human and fraternal communion, bearing one another’s burdens (Cf. Galatians 6:2) with a spirit of service.
Finally, allow me a personal word among Bishops, as is appropriate in full charity. I have noted the historical events that render Bosnia and Herzegovina different in many realms. And yet, you are only one body: you are Catholic Bishops in communion with the Successor of Peter, in a frontier place. There flows spontaneously from my heart only one word: you are in communion. Even if sometimes imperfect, this communion is pursued with vigor at all levels, beyond peculiar individualities.
One must act on the basis of belonging to the same Apostolic College. Other considerations pass to a secondary plane and are analyzed in the light of the catholicity of your faith and your ministry.
Dear Brothers, while awaiting to meet your people at Sarajevo, I wish to give you the charity, attention and closeness of the Church of Rome in your confrontations, heirs of so many martyrs and confessors, who in the course of the afflicted and centuries-old history of your country have kept the faith alive.
These are sentiments that I express with much cordiality and which I beg you to transmit to your communities, asking them for prayer for my ministry and making them participants in the Apostolic Blessing, which I impart to you with fraternal affection.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]