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A sign and a prayer

A sign and a prayer on the “beautiful path” to peace: with these poignant words to journalists on the flight to Sarajevo, Pope Francis described the meaning of his visit to the city — a place of great ethnic, cultural and religious variety — which has been called the Jerusalem of Europe. A sign and a prayer of peace were strongly raised up at Mass, celebrated under a scorching sun by the Pope — truly, as the title literally signifies, the “bridge builder” — in the stadium of Sarajevo. This place is deeply significant for having been the venue in which John Paul ii celebrated Mass two years after the end of the war, and which hosts competitions and concerts, but is surrounded by tombs of hundreds of Christians and Muslims, victims of that atrocious conflict. This city suffered deeply during the devastating war of the early 90’s.

Presenting himself at the Presidential Palace as “a pilgrim of peace and dialogue”, the Pope pointed to Bosnia and Herzegovina as an example for Europe and the world. This nation had the courage to face the transition of a culture of war and conflict to a culture of encounter, the latter of which the Holy Father persistently advocates and which inspires the politics and the presence of the Holy See on the international scene.

The Pope’s words were consistent with this culture of encounter: we need “to promote that which unites us, and to regard our differences as an opportunity to grow in mutual respect”. Here, in the heart of the Balkans, the dialogue which led to the end of the war and to the building of peace must continue. With international assistance, especially from the European Union, collaboration between ethnic groups and religions is possible and it is a sign of hope, the Pontiff underlined.

“I saw this hope at my arrival this morning in the children of Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic and other religions”, and now we need to bet on them, Bergoglio added, off the cuff, at the airport when he greeted each little boy and girl one by one. We need to oppose barbarity so as to recognize “the fundamental values of human communities”, he continued, so that after the winter chill, “springtime may come to blossom” here.

The focal point in his homily at Mass was peace — mir vama (“peace be with you” from the Gospel), the motto of the papal visit — in a context of “an atmosphere of war”, which we saw through the mass media and which led Pope Francis (Papa Franjo) to repeat the words of Paul vi before the General Assembly of the United Nations (“never again war!”) as well as Pius xii’s papal motto (opus iustitiae pax) taken from the ancient prophecy of Isaiah.

Pope Pacelli’s prophetic maxim describes “a justice not proclaimed, imagined, planned”, but put into practice and lived out, as his successor noted. He also explained the Beatitude addressed to “peacemakers”: that is, not those who proclaim, like hypocrites, but “those who do”, like artisans. Things change because we change. Thanks to a gift that comes from God.

g.m.v.

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