JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our blog and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and various projects we have helped to bring into being together with ACN benefactors.
This week : Bosnia-Herzegovina
A growing pressure on Catholics in Sarajevo
One hundred years ago the First World War began. The event that triggered it was the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. So what is the situation of Christians in Bosnia and Herzegovina today? What sort of help is coming from Europe? These questions were put to Cardinal Vinko Puljic, the Archbishop of Sarajevo.
How have things evolved for Catholics over the last hundred years?
According to our statistics, there were 458,990 Catholics living in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1914. Before the Second World War there were 640,501 and before the most recent 1991 war, statistics indicate there were 812,256 Catholics. Twenty years later, only 443,084 remain – that is almost half as many. Catholic families were always the first schools of faith. But as a result of the war of 1991, many families were forced to flee. After the war, it was mainly older people returned home. The politicians are making no effort to encourage the return of Catholics. So today, there is a lack of younger families and therefore of spiritual vocations.
Do Christians of today have more freedom than one hundred years ago?
Under Ottoman rule, the Christians were discriminated against. After that – 100 years ago that is – there began a time of tolerance. The Church structures were established, including schools, churches and cathedrals. Today, the Catholic Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a bridge between East and West, both culturally and religiously. On this path of dialogue the education provided by Catholic schools plays an important role.
That is also the purpose of the John Paul II Youth Center with its programs to help young people develop their own sense of identity. There is so much that we can do together for the welfare of everyone. Many Muslims also share this same spirit of solidarity. However, since the recent war of 1992-1995, the relationship has changed. The influence of Arab countries has become stronger. Radicalization is gaining ground. Even older Muslims, who have always lived side by side with the Christians, are disturbed by this. But money is what counts, especially in politics. Moreover, there is a legal insecurity, particularly for the Catholics.
Do Christians receive help from Europe?
It varies greatly. To give two examples: when the Serbian Orthodox Church in Mostar began rebuilding the damaged Orthodox churches, all the international bodies supported them. The same thing was true of the Orthodox Church in Sarajevo. When the Muslims began the renovation of their mosque in Banja Luka, they were given support by the American government. But when we Catholics asked for help, we were told that they did not support churches, only cultural monuments. Is not the Catholic Church also a part of the country’s culture? It is the same story with the support for returning refugees: for the others there was plenty – for Catholics there is little or nothing.
How is the region recovering from the terrible flooding this spring?
Forty parishes within my archdiocese were flooded. In twenty of them the damage was severe. The initial wave of solidarity was tremendous, but it was a matter of basic survival. Now it is about getting on with life. Livestock was decimated; farm buildings, houses and furniture were destroyed. Many people simply lack the strength to rebuild again from scratch. The state has failed them. No one is bothering about the plague of flies, or repairs for the broken river dikes. But the biggest problem is the creation of jobs and economic development. How are we supposed to live? •