Pope Francis will be traveling to Sarajevo, the capitol of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Saturday June 6 for a one-day visit. Here are some quick facts about the country and the trip!

1. Where is Bosnia and Herzegovina? 

Just across the Pond from Rome!

Just across the Pond from Rome!

The region known as Bosnia occupies the northern 4/5ths of the country (roughly) while the region known as Herzegovina is in the remaining southern, bottom left part of the country.  It’s largely a mountainous country, similar in size to the state of West Virginia.

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2. Why the two names? Were Bosnia and Herzegovina ever two separate countries? 

According to New World Encyclopedia, the name “Bosnia” likely comes from the name of the local Bosna river,  which was recorded in the Roman Age as the river “Bossina”. “Herzegovina” means “Herzog’s lands”, a name which came from Stefan Vukčić Kosača, who called himself “Herzog of Saint Sava”  in 1448. Herzog is a Germanic title similar to “prince”, and Saint Sava is an Orthodox Serbian monk, archbishop and saint.  

The name “Herzegovina” was first included in the official name of the country in the mid-nineteenth century, when it was under control of the Ottoman empire. They have never been two separate countries, but are rather two regions and political entities that function as one country (kind of like Czechoslovakia, before it split post-communism era, in 1993).

3. What is the religious makeup of the country? 

Religion is deeply tied with ethnicity in the country. Of the country’s 3.8 million people, 40 percent are Muslim/Bosniak, 40 percent are Orthodox/Serbian, and 15 percent are Catholic/Croats.

Pope Francis’ visit comes 20 years after the end of the three-year Bosnian War that killed around 100,000 people and displaced a million more. Although ethnic and religious violence tapered off after the peace treaty of 1995-96, deep cultural and religious divides are enduring.


4. Why is this visit important? 

Hopes are high that Pope Francis will be able to bring a message and example of ecumenical peace to the still deeply-divided country.

“Catholics have an obligation to be reaching out to their fellow countrymen,” Marc D’Silva, Catholic Relief Services’ representative to the country, told CNA June 3. D’Silva said the divisions of the war have been “frozen into place,” with whole communities sharing the same ethnicity and religion and harboring a deep suspicion of their countrymen. This has created a stagnant economy, with the official unemployment rate at 46 percent. Businesses are reluctant to invest in a divided country with no single economic plan. About 700,000 people live in poverty there, according to CRS.

D’Silva hoped that Pope Francis will spur everyone, especially Catholics, to overcome their differences and begin building a united country. He said that the papal visit is an opportunity to send a “powerful message” to Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Jews that there is “an influential person” who will speak to everybody.

The Pope has already sent a video message to the people of the country emphasizing the motto of his upcoming trip: “Peace be with you” or “Mir Vama” in the local language.

The English text of the video message can be found on the trip’s official English language site: http://www.papa.ba/en/press/news/videomessage-of-h-h-pope-francis-to-the-people-of-sarajevo-1st-june-2015

5. When was the last time a Pope visited the country? 

Pope St. John Paul II visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997, at the age of 76. His visit was scheduled to occur about two years earlier, but had to be cancelled for security reasons due to the bombing still occurring in the area at the time.

Just last year, a monument commemorating St. John Paul II’s visit was established on the square in front of the Sarajevo Cathedral “because from that spot the Pope John Paul II during his visit in Sarajevo in 1997 greeted, blessed and sent peace messages to citizens,” the Sarajevo Times reported. 

Pope John Paul II prays with church officials in Sarajevo in 1997. The Catholic news agency of the Bishops' Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Katolička tiskovna agencija Biskupske konferencije Bosne i Hercegovine)

Pope John Paul II prays with church officials in Sarajevo in 1997. Source: The Catholic news agency of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Katolička tiskovna agencija Biskupske konferencije Bosne i Hercegovine)

At the beginning of his homily at the Sarajevo airport in 1997, John Paul II expressed his closeness to all who had suffered in the war:

I would like to embrace all those who live in this region which has endured so much, especially those who have suffered the premature loss of a loved one, those who bear on their bodies the marks of war and those who have had to abandon their homes in these long years of violence. All of you should know that you have a special place in the Pope’s heart. In my statements calling for peace in this country, I have been concerned to ensure that respect be shown for all individuals and their rights, without distinction of race or religion, and with special regard for the poor and the victims of hardship.

Pope John Paul II in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1997.

Pope John Paul II in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1997. Source: The Catholic news agency of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Katolička tiskovna agencija Biskupske konferencije Bosne i Hercegovine)

In the part of his address where he directly spoke to the leaders of the country, he said:

Never again war! Never again hatred and intolerance! This is the lesson taught by this century and this millennium which are now drawing to a close. This is the message with which I begin my Pastoral Visit. The inhuman logic of violence must be replaced by the constructive logic of peace. The natural instinct for revenge must yield to the liberating power of forgiveness, which must put an end to extreme forms of nationalism and the ethnic conflicts which they generate. As in a mosaic, every part of this region needs to be assured that its own political, national, cultural and religious identity will be safeguarded. Diversity is a source of enrichment, when it becomes a united effort in the service of peace, for the building of a truly democratic Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Pope John Paul II greets a religious sister during his visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1997. The Catholic news agency of the Bishops' Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Katolička tiskovna agencija Biskupske konferencije Bosne i Hercegovine)

Pope John Paul II greets a religious sister during his visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1997. Source: The Catholic news agency of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Katolička tiskovna agencija Biskupske konferencije Bosne i Hercegovine)

6. Where can I find out about all the latest news of Pope Francis’ trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Follow Catholic News Agency online, our Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram, where our on-the-ground reporters will be sending us the latest news, photos and updates from the Pope’s trip. We will be using #PopeinSarajevo in our posts.