From Tirana to Sarajevo, Pope Francis’ visits throughout Europe clearly show his choice to go where not so long ago there was the greatest suffering. This was understood as soon as he announced the first journey of his pontificate: to Lampedusa, a symbol of recurring tragedy in the face of which it is inexcusable to remain inert or closed, as all too often happens anyway. It was evident as well from the Pope’s speeches before the European Institutions in Strasbourg, urging politicians to care for the continent especially in its most vulnerable aspects.
A messenger of peace in a country still suffering the aftershock of the first conflict in Europe after the Second World War, Bergoglio repeated to policy makers in Sarajevo — while addressing at the same time every inhabitant of Bosnia and Herzegovina — that peace is built day by day, with the patience and passion of artisans. He prayed for this specifically during the Mass that brought together the Catholic minority which, although persecuted and of late reduced in number, is able to bear witness to the faith through forgiveness.
Just as in Tirana, the gathering in the Cathedral of men and women religious and clergy was quite poignant. The meeting opened with the testimony of Fr Zvonimir Matijević, Bro. Jozo Puškarić and Sr Ljubica Šekerija, who shared first-hand accounts of persecution and martyrdom, yet nevertheless illuminated by acts of humanity by a Muslim woman and even by one of the persecutors. Visibly moved, the Pope embraced and kissed the three witnesses, now elderly and scared by the violence they suffered.
Consigning his prepared text, the Pontiff reflected on the testimonies, on lives which “speak for themselves”, which conform “worthily to the Cross of Christ”, which must never be forgotten. Following those testimonies, one must “make peace” and must “love as they loved”, so as “to live the faith” as it has been “handed on”. Despite this “story of cruelty”, Pope Francis exhorted: “Do always the opposite of cruelty: have an attitude of tenderness, of brotherhood, of forgiveness”, following the example of these martyrs. By remembering the past, we can as Christians, Muslims and Jews — with whom he met afterwards — together build a different future: one of peace.
This is the future that Bergoglio envisioned during his final meeting that day, with hundreds of young people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who questioned him on a topic which is more and more pervasive in contemporary culture: media communications. The Pope answered their questions, speaking from his own experience and looking into the eyes of his young interlocutors. He didn’t demonize new forms of media but said that one has to make a choice, and that one has to know how to choose because freedom and dignity are at stake.
What he left to the young people of Sarajevo pertained not only to the battered city nor to the confines of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Looking to the future, Bergoglio encouraged them to build not walls but bridges. To hasten, in the difficult and seemingly endless winter, a new springtime of blossoming peace.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 29, 2020
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