Pope Francis to call for reconciliation in visit to Bosnia

Thu Jun 4, 2015 3:36pm EDT
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By Daria Sito-Sucic and Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Pope Francis will call for lasting reconciliation this week when he visits Bosnia, a country that remains ethnically and religiously fractured 20 years after the end of a civil war.

    With his one-day visit to Sarajevo, the pope is lending his weight to a fresh bid by the European Union to bring change to a country still scarred by the war that claimed 100,000 lives after it broke away from Yugoslavia.

    In April 1997, visiting a devastated and snowbound Sarajevo less than two years after the war's end, the then pope, John Paul II, urged "the courage of forgiveness" and reconciliation.

But 18 years on, Bosnia remains politically divided along ethnic lines and trailing its ex-Yugoslav peers on the road to integration with Western Europe.

Francis's visit comes just days after the EU set into action a long-delayed agreement on closer ties with Bosnia, a first step towards possible EU membership and a bid to address frustrations over poverty and corruption that were behind widespread civil unrest in February 2014.

Fikret Novalic, prime minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation - one of two regional entities, along with the Serb Republic, that make up the country - said the papal visit, combined with the EU deal, "may be part of this synchronized international action towards Bosnia".

    "Bosnia is again in the spotlight ... and we realize this is a chance for us to join the modern world," Novalic said of the EU deal, in force since June 1, which unlocks funds in return for political and economic reforms.

    Tens of thousands are expected to attend on open-air Mass in Sarajevo's Kosevo stadium. A Bosnian woodcarver and devout Muslim has made the pope's chair, foregoing his fee that a Catholic parish had offered to pay.   Continued...

People ride bicycles past a billboard with an image of Pope Francis in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic