Sarajevo, twenty years later...
"These days, specifically April 5, 2012 – Holy Thursday – mark the twentieth anniversary of the tragic war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and of the dramatic siege of the city of Sarajevo.
It was the longest siege of the twentieth century, from April 1992 to February 1996. Four years of violence, suffering, of daily bombings…a particular noise to which my ears became accustomed, so much so that today I am forced to wear an ear device in order to restore my hearing lost in those days.
Twenty years is still too short to narrate what happened in Sarajevo, which has always been a city of exemplary co-existence between Christians, Jews and Muslims. But it is also a city of pain and conflict. In a way, Sarajevo encompasses the beginning and the end of every war of the 20th century. It was in Sarajevo, in fact, that the first World War originated. Sarajevo was the theater of the last tragic conflict of the 1900’s. Sarajevo, city of suffering and hope. In his historic visit in 1997, Pope John Paul II called Sarajevo the “Jerusalem of Europe”…
But what happened in Sarajevo? A violent and senseless war – like every war – that taught many people to believe that Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims and Jews could not live together. A contrast between Croatians, Serbians, Bosnians. A reality of different peoples who for ages lived together and suddenly began to divide, to oppose each other….
As bishop of the city, I wanted to stay. I was the pastor of all the inhabitants of Sarajevo. I did not flee. I stayed with my people for all four years of the siege, sharing day after day the suffering and the fragile hope for the future. But was there a future? What future is there for 11,000 people killed by bombs fired haphazardly all day, from morning to night, from the cannons situated on the mountains surrounding the city. Two thousand children were killed, Jews, Christians and Muslims, whose names are listed together on five pillars in one of the main squares of the city. The children of Sarajevo. And many others affected by tumors caused by the low enriched uranium (LEU) used in the bombs… Yet, there had to be a future for everyone…We are Christians, we love life and we believe that a future may always exist, that war is never the last word…
So many personal memories of those long, interminable years… I wanted to be the bishop of everyone, Catholics, Orthodox, Jews and Muslims, even of non believers. I realized deep down that during the violence of war it is all the more urgent and perhaps clearer, that perhaps all the time, yes, all the time, a bishop is called upon to be everyone’s bishop…
I would also like to talk about how important friendship and contact with others are when we are alone, surrounded by evil, threatened everyday, under siege like in Sarajevo. My thoughts go to the friendship and profound communion with John Paul II. My thoughts go to my meeting with him in January 1993, for the prayers held in Assisi for the Balkans. We were still under siege.
Twenty years from the tragedy of war and the siege of Sarajevo, I am pleased to announce with joy that together with the Community of Sant’Egidio we are preparing a big international meeting for peace in Sarajevo. It will take place from September 9th to 11th and will gather representatives of Christian churches and of the other great religions, to say together NO to war, to violence, to division. To say that a future exists for everyone and it exists only by living together. There is no future without co-existence for Sarajevo, for Bosnia and Herzegovina, for Europe and for the whole world.
I truly hope that a major message of peace can rise from Sarajevo and spread to every land and every population, throughout the whole world. Sarajevo, city of division, of war and of suffering can become the city of a dream for peace for Europe and the world. Peace, co-existence and equality. I invite all of you to be with us in Sarajevo next September."
April 5, 2012
Sarajevo, 5. travnja 2012
His eminency Cardinal Vinko Pulic
Archbishop of Vrhbosna-Sarajevo