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For the future of Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina

· The Pope's concern in a letter from Cardinal Bertone ·

The 14th Joint Meeting of the Bishops' Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CEBE) and of the Croatian Bishops' Conference (CEC) was held on Monday, 30 and Tuesday 31 January, in the Archbishop's house in Sarajevo.  Taking part in the assembly were all the Bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 19 from Croatia and Archbishop Alessandro D'Errico, Apostolic Nuncio in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Nuncio addressed the following words to the bishops, priests, religious and faithful: “Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular we are grappling with a very delicate matter that concerns the future of the Catholic faith in the country itself. As has been repeated time and again, statistics collected every year from the diocesan curias have unfortunately been far from encouraging for some time. In this context we must be very grateful”,  he continued, “to the Cardinal Secretary of State for the important message which he has sent in the Holy Father's name to all the bishops gathered here. Cardinal Bertone asked everyone to pay sufficient attention to this “serious matter”. He has suggested planning common pastoral guidelines in this regard and, in his conclusion, he affirmed that the Holy Father hopes that the collegial reflection of the bishops of the two Bishops' Conferences may contribute to inspiring useful projects to ensure that the Croatian people can continue to carry out its ecclesial mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to make its precious contribution to the civil life of the country”.

The work of the meeting focused on reflection on this letter and message, which Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of His Holiness, addressed to the Bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia on behalf of the Holy Father.

“This Joint Meeting”, the letter reads, “is a further sign of the Catholic Church's unity in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This unity consists not only of affectio collegalis but also of a common vision of the role, responsibilities and activities of the Church. It is nourished with the same devotion to the Holy Father, with sincere ecclesial commitment in the face of the challenges that the Croatian people in the area find themselves confronting and also with exemplary interventions of solidarity for the poorest and neediest social categories.

“In this context of collegial service to the people of God,”, the Cardinal continues, “I am sure that attention will be paid at the meeting to the serious matter of the future of the Catholic people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so as to plan common pastoral guidelines”.

The reason for this special concern for Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina is above all their tragic demographic situation: the Catholic presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina is diminishing day after day, and if this process is not halted, in a few more decades it might completely disappear. The causes of this situation are presented in the letter..

“Unfortunately, as you well know”, the Secretary of State writes, “the data are alarming: “from about 800,000 Catholics in 1991, they have dwindled to about 440,000 today. In many parishes only the elderly are left; according to the annual statistics of the diocesan curias, the number of Catholics never stops falling”.

Cardinal Bertone then invited the Pastors of the Church to intensify their work for Catholics in Bosnia and Herzegovina, asking further for concrete projects to stem the phenomenon of the emigration of the country's Catholic population. He also pointed out that the Church is not only open to collaboration with the civil authorities, but also with all people of good will.

“The gravity of the situation”, one reads further, “demands that you, as Pastors and primarily responsible for the People of God in this region, of common accord intensify your commitment to the future of the Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Discouragement and resignation must be combated and personal involvement in the matter of survival must be encouraged”.

“The Holy Father”, Cardinal Bertone's letter says, “hopes that the collegial reflection of the two Episcopal Conferences will help inspire useful initiatives, to ensure that the Croatian people can continue to carry out their ecclesial mission in Bosnia and in Herzegovina and to make their valuable contribution to the civil life of the country”.

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