Mostar Man: 'Let My Son Be Last Sacrifice': War Brings Bosnians Back to Churches 'Like an Apocalypse.' (Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina)

By Wilkes, Paul | National Catholic Reporter, January 29, 1993 | Go to article overview

Mostar Man: 'Let My Son Be Last Sacrifice': War Brings Bosnians Back to Churches 'Like an Apocalypse.' (Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina)


Wilkes, Paul, National Catholic Reporter


War brings Bosnians back to churches |like an apocalypse'

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina - Trying to find secure footing, the pigeons scrambled for a roost in what was left of the steeple of the church of Saints Peter and Paul, sending bits of crumbled granite and mortar to clatter on the heap of debris below. Inside the courtyard of the Franciscan monastery adjoining the devastated church - in their-own struggle for some semblance of dignity - many of the women of Saints Peter and Paul had fashioned new and sometimes tortured hairstyles to conceal gray roots they were now powerless to hide

It was a Sunday morning in Mostar, and the worshipers were crowded within the courtyard of the Franciscan monastery, open to the raw, sunless day.

The familiar Croatian hymn O Mila Majko Nebeska issued from their mouths more as a plaintive wail than a paean of praise to the Blessed Virgin. When the Mass was completed, the worshipers made the sign of the cross, genuflected and turned to leave.

They filed out silently past stacked cartons of Pathmark shortening, Diamond Crystal Salt, Dinty Moore Beef Stew and Walgreen's mint-flavored antacid, past boxes of used clothing and rolls of heavy plastic sheeting - all reminders of their empty pantries, shattered windows, broken lives.

A few women lingered, hoping a carton would be opened (it didn't matter which one - if not needed, it could be traded) and distributed. Seeing the celebrant, Father Mladen Sesar, close by, one woman could not help posing the question he had heard so many times in the past nine months: "How can God do this to us, Father? How?"

"Now, now, Missus," he tried to reassure her in a Croatian as lilting and as tired as its native land. "He is with us still."

A soldier in battle fatigues heard me speaking in English to my interpreter and introduced himself as Ante Boras, a 45-year-old Bosnian Catholic. Four years working in Australia and a year in Michigan had given Boras, an engineer by training, a good grasp of the language. He, too, bad heard the woman's words. "Sometimes it seems that God has turned his face from us here in Mostar," he said, taking hold of my arm for emphasis.

"Maybe we deserve it Maybe the sons must pay for the sins of the fathers. I don't know. I don't now anything anymore. Nothing makes sense." He shook his head. "Sarajevo, Sarajevo, that's all anybody sees on the news. The world has already forgotten about Mostar."

Above the cloister's courtyard loomed the scorched back wall of what had once been one of the most impressive churches in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Out side the monastery's front gate lay a once-cosmopolitan city - a jewel of socialist ingenuity and local enterprise - equally in ruins.

Tito's master plan ruined

Marshal Tito, the strong-willed architect of post-world War II Yugoslavia, located key industries in Mostar - a huge aircraft-parts factory and a communications-equipment plant most significant among them - as part of a plan to transform and reconstitute the city.

Young Serbs from other parts of Yugoslavia were encouraged to move to Mostar, the ancient capital of Herzegovina, as part of Tito's grand plan to undermine the religious and ethnic lines that bad kept the area in fractious conflict for centuries - or at least to blunt their force as an obstacle to socialist progress. His primary target was the institution that has a message at once powerful, ages-old and counter to his own: the Catholic church.

Tito's master plan for Mostar worked brilliantly. Intermarriages proliferated between Catholics - who once shared dominance over the city with the Orthodox but were now about equal in number with Muslims in the city - and non-Catholics.

Children, encouraged by the Communist Party, gleefully disrupted Sunday Masses. Job-seekers joined the party and abstained from going to church, knowing they would be reported by legion of eager, low-level spies, thus threatening their prospects. …

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