Reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Prospective of Its Catholic Inhabitants
Zovkic, Mato, Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Professor Scott Appleby gave us his dynamic view of Catholic reconciliation theology in our time. There is no need for referring to concrete texts of the New Testament about forgiving other human beings, because we all need God's forgiveness, or for quoting Chapter 5, "The Fostering of Peace and the Promotion of a Community of Nations," from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of Vatican II (Gaudium et spes, nos. 77-90). Rather, I would like to reflect on my Catholic experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a country with mixed ethnic and religious identities.
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The Catholic community of Bosnia-Herzegovina is organized into four dioceses: Trebinje, Mostar, Sarajevo, and Banja Luka. In 1991 there were 830,000 believers. Because of violent ethnic conflicts, the numbers were reduced by half during the 1991-95 war. When in April, 1997, Pope John Paul II visited Sarajevo, he encouraged us to practice dialogue as an instrument of balancing our diversities for the common good. In his speech to our Collegial Presidency, he said:
Building a true and lasting peace is a great task entrusted to everyone. Certainly, much depends on those who have public responsibility. But the future of peace, while largely entrusted to institutional formulations, which have to be effectively drawn up by means of sincere dialogue and in respect of justice, depend no less decisively on a renewed solidarity of minds and hearts. It is this interior attitude which must be fostered, both within the frontiers of Bosnia-Herzegovina and also in relations with neighboring States and the community of nations. But an attitude of this kind can only be established on the foundation of forgiveness. For the edifice of peace to be solid, against the background of so much blood and hatred, it will have to be built on the courage of forgiveness. People must know how to ask for forgiveness and to forgive!
The Sarajevo archdiocese published the speeches of his Holiness in a book illustrated by pictures from his visit and, later, in an enlarged edition with commentaries of our theologians on his speeches. These books were distributed in our parishes.
We Catholics celebrate the New Year as the World Day of Peace by reading or rephrasing in our liturgical assemblies the message of the pope. The theme of his message in 1998 was "From justice of each person comes forth peace for all." In 2002, his topic was "No peace without justice--no justice without forgiveness." It considered the aftermath of terror attacks in the U.S.A. on September 11, 2001, and reminded us that the ability to forgive lies at the very basis of the idea of a future society, marked by justice and solidarity: "Forgiveness, as a fully human act, is above all a personal initiative. But individuals are essentially social beings, situated within a pattern of relationships through which they express themselves in ways both good and bad. Consequently, society too is absolutely in need of forgiveness" (no. 9). He invited followers of the world religions to help build up an international civil society capable of pursuing the tranquility of order in justice and freedom:
In undertaking such a commitment, the various religions cannot but pursue the path of forgiveness, which opens the way to mutual understanding, respect and trust. The help that religions can give to peace and against terrorism consists precisely in their teaching forgiveness, for those who forgive and seek forgiveness know that there is a higher Truth, and that by accepting that Truth they can transcend themselves. (no. 13)
In 2002, besides spreading this message of the pope in the official bulletin and asking presiding celebrants to preach about it on New Year's Day, our bishops invited their flocks to join the pope and other representatives of world religions in prayer for peace at Assisi, on January 24. …