SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - Conflict and cruelty must be
fought with tenderness, forgiveness and bearing Christ's
cross, Pope Francis said.
Bosnia-Herzegovina has experienced "a history of cruelty" and
one that is seen in many conflicts around the world today,
the pope told a gathering of priests, religious and
seminarians in Sarajevo's cathedral June 6.
The best response "is always do the opposite of cruelty," he
said; show "tenderness, brotherhood, forgiveness and carry
the cross of Jesus Christ."
Making a one-day visit to the capital of a nation still
scarred by ethnic and religious divisions, Pope Francis had
said he came as a "pilgrim of peace."
He called on government officials and civilians to be
"artisans of peace;" religious leaders to be dedicated to
dialogue; consecrated men and women to be sowers of hope; and
young people to be seeds of peace willing to renew the land
that gave them life.
"You are the first generation after the war. You are flowers
of a spring ... that wants to go forward and does not want to
return to destruction and things that make us enemies of one
another," he told hundreds of young people of different
faiths who volunteer together with the archdiocese's St. John
Paul II Center.
"You want to walk together" in joy and a way that includes
everyone; not as "me" and "them," but as a "'we' in order to
not destroy the country," he said.
More than 100,000 people died and millions more were
displaced during the 1992-1995 war, which saw a Serb campaign
of ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims after the mostly
Muslim nation declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.
The pope told leaders representing the Muslim, Jewish,
Orthodox and Catholic faiths they had the duty to dialogue
with one another and to see diversity as a resource, not a
Remembering the past is important in order to learn the
lessons of history, he told the faith leaders. He repeated
the point later in the day with priests, religious men and
women and seminarians gathered in Sarajevo's Cathedral of the
People have a right to remember and share their past, not in
order to feed hatred and revenge, but as part of the process
of building peace, he said.
Two priests and a nun shared personal stories of being
captured, threatened and tortured by militants during the
Walking to the lectern slowly and unsteadily with crutches,
Father Zvonimir Matijevic of Banja Luka said his Serb captors
beat him so hard, their military commander sent to the
hospital where doctors and six pints of blood helped him
survive. His wrists still bear scars from handcuffs squeezed
However, the priest, who has since developed multiple
sclerosis, said he forgives those who hurt him and prays that
God help them choose a life dedicated to the good.After the
priest finished his testimony, the pope bowed deeply before
him, kissed his wrist and then held him in a long embrace.
Franciscan Father Jozo Puskaric, however, "confessed" to the
pope that he had given up all hope at one point and begged
one of the guards to kill him and put him out of his misery.
The priest's voice wavered with emotion as he told his story
and paused as he sought to hold back his tears and continue.
He said when he found out he was worth more alive in a
possible prisoner exchange, he regained the will to live, and
said God sent "sent me his help through a Muslim woman" who
gave him food while he endured inhumane conditions of
torture, filth and starvation in a concentration camp.
He said forgiving one's enemies "makes room for the coming of
God's kingdom in man's heart and only in this way can we
recognize a brother and a sister in others."
Lastly, Daughter of Divine Charity Sister Ljubica Sekerija,
who ministered to the elderly and sick in the Muslim-majority
region of Travnik, said foreign fighters swept in from Arab
countries and took her prisoner. She said some residents
cheered on the militants and jeered at her as she was taken
After a priest held captive in the same room refused orders
to crush the sister's rosary, the militants smashed it
themselves, she said. They took the ring given to her at her
final vow ceremony, ordered her to convert, humiliated and
beat her along with the others they kidnapped, she said.
One militant bragged his machine gun was his family: "It is
my mother, father, wife and children," she said, but there
was also another who asked her if she was hungry and secretly
gave her a pear.
Sister Sekerija said despite the evil and cruelty she
experienced, she still felt an abundance of God's grace
throughout the ordeal.
The pope, who had set aside his prepared speech, said
consecrated men and women have the blood of martyrs in their
veins, and are obliged to forgive. Those who don't know how
to forgive are "useless."
Being close to those who suffered also helps religious keep
things in perspective and remember their spiritual calling,
"Worldly nuns, priests, bishops and seminarians are a
caricature, they're useless," having lost the memory of the
martyrs and the crucified Christ, he said.
The next time someone wants to complain about having a bad
meal, a toothache or not having a TV in their room, "think of
how much these people suffered. Think of those six pints of
blood the priest needed to survive. And live a life worthy of
the cross of Jesus Christ," he said.