During a recent conference in Bosnia discussing interreligious violence, Cardinal Vinko Puljic said Catholics face great persecution due to a lack of ethnic equality.
“We Catholics are in a grave position. There is no equality and this is a problem. There is no equality in the Serbian Republic, there is no equality in the federation,” the cardinal explained to CNA June 17.
"Where there is no equality, it isn’t possible to live in peace,” he added.
Cardinal Puljic is the sixth and current Archbishop of the Vrhbosna diocese in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. He participated in a June 16-17 Oasis conference discussing the temptation of violence among religions.
Held in Sarajevo, Bosnia, the conference brought together various international experts who discussed the theme “The Temptation of Violence: Religions between War and Reconciliation” in light of the 100-year anniversary of the First World War that began in the city with the 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.
The cardinal noted holding the conference in Bosnia was particularly significant because of the country’s religious and ethnic diversity.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country where we live together as Christians, Muslims, Jews but also where there are Christian traditions, Orthodox, Catholics,” he said. “This conference is very important to give an impulse not only for us Christians, but also for Muslims.”
“We want to create a paradigm for Europe where it is possible to live together with respect and human rights,” Cardinal Puljic said, noting that this “doesn’t depend only on communities of different religions.”
It also depends on “the international community and the local politics who need to create equality.”
Historically divided into three key ethnic groups, Bosnia-Herzegovina is composed of a majority of Muslim Bosniaks followed by a large percentage of mostly Orthodox Serbs and a great population of Croats, a majority of which are Catholic.
The current religious and ethnic situation is complex, Cardinal Puljic observed. The region has seen a series of wars, the most recent of which is the Bosnian War of 1992-1995 in which the country’s Serb population began a policy of ethnic “cleansing” in large areas of Bosnia inhabited by non-Serbs and Muslim, Croat and Serb populations who opposed their army.
“Local Christians are diverse,” Cardinal Puljic said. Catholics are a minority in the area whereas the Serbian Republic is mostly Orthodox and the Federation is a majority Muslim.
“Europeans always speak about Christians but for us it is very different,” the cardinal observed. “When we speak of Christians, we are about half-and-half, half Christian, half Muslim.”
“But also the Christians are not in the same situation, because (for) us Catholics it’s very important to create a climate of ecumenism,” he added, noting there are currently “great tensions between Orthodox Christians and Muslims” in Bosnia.
"We Catholics are like catalysts between them. We want to create tranquility” and “a climate of dialogue,” he continued, stating that although it’s not possible to solve every problem, it’s “necessary to always talk in order to destroy prejudice.”
Cardinal Puljic then recalled the many “very beautiful messages, beautiful words” spoken during the conference, saying that “for me this is like a small school. One receives a certain richness.”
“I am also very grateful that Europe has not forgotten Bosnia-Herzegovina” he said, adding that “this conference gives the message ‘you are not alone, we are with you.’”