Sarajevo ready for Pope Francis' Bosnia visit

AP News
Posted: Jun 05, 2015 1:16 PM
Sarajevo ready for Pope Francis' Bosnia visit

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Sarajevo is ready to host tens of thousands of pilgrims heading its way to greet Pope Francis when he visits on Saturday, officials say.

"We have put a lot of love into the preparations for the visit," Bosnia's Cardinal Vinko Puljic said Friday. "The city is radiating joy."

He urged people of all faiths to "keep their ears and hearts open for the pope's message."

Volunteers are helping buses and private cars find parking spots. For security, police have asked residents to close their windows and not stand on their balconies when the pontiff passes by. Authorities published a phone number people should call if they notice anything suspicious.

Francis is coming to call for peace and reconciliation among Bosnia's Muslims, Christian Orthodox and Catholics, who remain divided decades after a brutal three-way war.

A group of Sarajevo artists and intellectuals wrote a letter to tell Francis that two of the officials he will meet recently threw a welcome party for a Croat war criminal released after serving his sentence for killing Muslims.

"The peace the pope wants to promote is not possible without the wounds of the war healing, and those are bleeding again when war criminals are hailed as heroes," said film director Jasmila Zbanic.

Some 100,000 people are expected to come from all over Bosnia and the region to Sarajevo, a majority- Muslim city of 300,000 residents.

Most of the pilgrims will board some 800 busses at midnight to arrive in the capital early in the morning and find a seat at the city's stadium and attend the mass. Francis will first meet with Bosnia's presidency, comprised of a Muslim Bosniak, a Christian Orthodox Serb and a Catholic Croat.

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He will also meet with representatives of all four religions that have been living in Bosnia for centuries: Muslims, Christian Orthodox, Catholics and Jews as well as with young people of all religions.

For centuries, Sarajevo was known as "Europe's Jerusalem," where Christianity, Islam and Judaism lived in harmony. In the 1990s, the city became synonymous with religious enmity, as its Christian Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks plunged into a calamitous cycle of warfare.