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Bosnian cardinal laments Sarajevo’s ‘disappearing Christians’

May 1, 2012

LONDON

The head of Bosnia’s Roman Catholic church has warned of the “uncertain future” facing Christians in the capital, Sarajevo, after their numbers dwindled by a third in the past decade.

“It isn’t easy to say what has happened to Sarajevo, this ancient town of mutual coexistence, built up over history by Christians, Jews and Muslims,” said Cardinal Vinko Puljic.

Puljic, 66, assessed the current condition of Sarajevo's faith communities in a statement dated April 6 that commemorated the start of the city’s four-year siege by Bosnian Serb force two decades ago. Some 10,500 residents of the city were killed.

“After such a violent and senseless war, it’s hard to believe Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews can live together any longer. With positions opposed between Croats, Serbs and Bosnians, the reality by which diverse peoples lived together here has begun to splinter and falter,” Puljic said.

Roman Catholics comprised 18 percent of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s population of 4.3 million before the 1992-5 war, with 44 percent Muslim and 35 percent Serbian Orthodox. The war cost a total of more than 100,000 lives and ended with the formation of separate Bosnian Serb and Croat-Muslim states.

However, the four Catholic dioceses have seen their populations depleted over the last two decades. Church leaders have complained of worsening discrimination under the Muslim-dominated Sarajevo city council, citing problems with obtaining permits for routine initiatives.

In 2010, the Catholic archdiocese accused radical Muslims of stirring inter-faith tensions after councilors threatened to tear down a monument to the late Pope John Paul II, who visited the city in 1997.

In January 2011, they accused the council of “legalizing injustices” after it ordered Puljic to hand over his episcopal residence to a former communist police agent, who claimed to be the rightful occupier.

 The secretary-general of Bosnia’s Sarajevo-based Catholic Bishops Conference, Msgr. Ivo Tomasevic, told ENInews that in 2011, 85 percent of the population of Sarajevo, which was later rebuilt with European Union funding, was now Muslim, while Christians had fallen to around 15,000 or two percent.

He added that alterations to the 1995 Dayton (Ohio) peace accord, giving Bosnian Muslims eight ministerial posts in the federation government, and Croats and Serbs five and three respectively, had handed “full decision-making power” to Muslims, who also now appoint the country’s president and premier.   

“The changes have made things continually worse for Christians ― instead, we should be ensuring the same rights for all in every part of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Tomasevic said in an ENInews interview.

“When NATO troops were occupying our country and removing its warlords, they should have taken much firmer steps to ensure all ethnic groups were treated equally and fairly.”

In his anniversary statement, Puljic said Sarajevo could still become a symbol of “peace, harmony and equality” between Christians, Muslims and Jews.

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