Pope Francis told tens of thousands of his followers gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly blessing that he will travel to Sarajevo for one day in June. Sarajevo was at the center of the brutal and bloody Balkans wars that ravaged the region during the 1990s.
In his weekly address at the Vatican, Pope Francis told the multitudes gathered that he will go to the Bosnian capital on June 6 for one day. While there, the Pope said he plans to pray for inter-religious dialogue and peace for the region and the people living there.
Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The war that lasted from 1992-95, known as the Bosnian war, claimed over 100,000 lives. After two decades since fighting ceased, those accused of war crimes are still being prosecuted.
In early January, Bosnia’s war crimes court indicted Serb lawmaker Dragomir Vasic for genocide over the executions of Srebrenica Muslims during the war. Srebrenica was declared by the UN to be a “safe area” in 1995, yet over 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys were killed in a matter of days. Vasic was police chief in a nearby town at the time.
During the war in Serbia, thousands of people were also killed or taken away to concentration camps. The violent ethnic cleansing was part of a plan by Serbs in 1992 to drive out non-Serbs. The violence impacted Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats. Pope Francis said on Sunday that the remaining small population of Catholics in Bosnia need encouragement, which he hopes to bring on his visit.
The pope asked those gathered at St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to pray for him and for the success of his trip. He also said he hopes his visit will “give rise to the development of good and contribute to the consolidation of brotherhood and peace.”
It won’t be the first time that Pope Francis has gone to a region known for tension and violence. In mid-January, the Pope traveled to the Philippines, where elements of ISIS have sprung up recently. The Philippines, a staunchly Catholic country, also has a strange history of assassination attempts on popes because of terrorist elements that operate there. Pope John Paul II was targeted by two murder plots by al-Qaeda.
Pope Francis also reportedly said that he wants to visit Colombia as soon as a peace deal is signed by the government with the rebel group FARC. He has long been urging the country’s president, Juan Manual Santos, to hasten the peace process with FARC and bring greater stability to Colombia. Pope Francis has no firm plans to travel to Colombia but has publicly promised to do so when there is peace.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]