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Bosnians Await Pope Francis’ June 2015 Visit

February 9, 2015

Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: readers interested in this story will also want to check out the new Balkanalysis dedicated Vatican page, and our new e-book, The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans: Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond.

 By Lana Pasic

Pope Francis recently made an official announcement that he will visit Bosnia on 6 June this year, in order to promote reconciliation, peace and inter-religious dialogue. His goal is also to encourage the Catholic community in Bosnia and give them support.

During his one-day visit, Pope Francis will meet with the Bosnian bishops, members of the presidency and the representatives of other religious communities in the country. The visit is likely to bring large number of Catholics to the Bosnia’s capital, some estimating that around 100,000 people will come from the neighboring countries. Preparations for the visit have already begun, and they will include not only religious, political and ceremonial, but also substantial security arrangements.

Positive Reactions to the Pope’s Announcement

The foreign media has compared the pope’s visit to Bosnia to his trips to Jordan, Palestinian territories, Albania and Turkey, all done with the intention of supporting Catholic communities in these countries, amidst rising inter-religious tensions in the Middle East region. However, it must be emphasised that the context in Bosnia is quite different, particularly when it comes to relations between Islam and the Catholic Church in the country, which have rarely been strained.

The Catholic Church in Bosnia & Herzegovina has always had strong relations with the Vatican, and previous pontiffs showed keen interest in the Balkans. John Paul II visited Bosnia & Herzegovina twice, in 1997 and 2003, and his statue can now be seen in front of the main Catholic Cathedral in Sarajevo.

The Islamic community in Bosnia and Reis Hussein Kavazovic have announced that they are also looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit, as it will promote peace and the universal values of brotherhood, respect and tolerance.

Key Issues Surrounding the Papal Visit

While the pope was originally expected to arrive to Sarajevo for the centennial commemorations of WWI, which aimed to celebrate peace in Europe, he will instead be arriving in Bosnia during the year which marks the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement, and the messages of inter-religious dialogue and peace will fit well with the occasion.

Yet, in spite of religious character of his visit, there are a number of political questions that will be posed for this occasion. The Vatican’s strong relations with the Catholic Church in Bosnia raise questions regarding the Holy Sea’s position regarding the hypothetical, and controversial idea of the creation of a third, Croat entity, which newly-elected Croat member of the Bosnian Herzegovina, Dragan Covic is advocating.

Another issue is whether the Pope’s visit will bring an official announcement on the status of Medjugorje, which had been expected by the end of 2014, but has not been made yet. The Vatican announced that an investigation had been concluded, with the results in the pope’s hands by January 2014, but until now nothing has been said. Perhaps unveiling his verdict in Bosnia itself would be the most fitting way to announce it.

Regardless of the standing political and religious questions, Pope Francis’ visit to Sarajevo is certainly going to be significant, and will reaffirm the Vatican’s strong links with the region. Officials of the Catholic Church in Bosnia emphasize that the pope’s visit is also socially important, considering his care and concern for the poor, especially bearing in mind the socio-economic situation in Bosnia, where a large percentage of the population lives in poverty. Clerics thus believe that the pope’s arrival will provide a spark of hope against the social apathy, particularly among the country’s youth.

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