Pope Asks Reconciliation But Flags In Crowd Signal Rivalries In War-Torn Region
In a cold wind and billowing snow, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on Sunday in Sarajevo, within sight of a hillside graveyard full of victims of the Bosnian war, and urged the crowd of about 35,000 people to have the courage to forgive.
The 76-year-old pope came here on a visit that was first planned more than two and a half years ago but was canceled for security reasons as Bosnian Serbs shelled the city. He was greeted on Sunday by groups of pilgrims, many of whom had traveled through the night on buses from predominantly Roman Catholic parts of Bosnia or from neighboring Croatia.
But the flags they waved reflected the divisions that continue to split Bosnia’s three main groups - Catholic Croats, Eastern Orthodox Serbs and Muslims. Besides the Vatican’s yellow-and-white banner, the flags in evidence on Sunday were either Croatia’s or a similar one used by Bosnia’s Croatian nationalists. Bosnia’s blue-and-white flag with its yellow fleur-de-lis was conspicuously absent.
For many Sarajevans, the impact of the pope’s visit lay mainly in his simply coming here, lending his moral authority to the task of rebuilding a society shattered by war.
“It is a very great thing that he came, very important for all of us,” said a young Muslim father out walking on Sunday with his twin daughters who would give only his first name, Ada. “We’ve been through such terrible things, so many killings, so much hunger. And now we have to remember ourselves as we were before.”
But the pope, whose visit here has been described by some Vatican analysts as the most difficult of his 75 foreign trips as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, pressed ahead. Speaking in a downtown sports stadium, he brought a message of reconciliation, but he also offered solace to Bosnia’s dwindling Catholic population.
“When in 1994 I wanted so intensely to come here among you,” he said, reading his remarks in Serbo-Croatian.
“I referred to a thought that had come to be extraordinarily significant at a crucial moment of European history: Let us forgive, and let us ask for forgiveness. It was said then that the time was not yet right. Has not that time now come?”
At a meeting later on Sunday with Roman Catholic clergy, he said their second task, after healing “minds tried by suffering,” was to denounce attempts to “try to strike directly at the believers in the church by intimidation or acts of intolerance.”