Pope Francis landed in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Hercegovina, early Saturday amid cheers from supporters awaiting his arrival at the airport. The pope's day-long visit to the majority Muslim city includes meeting the Bosnian presidency at the presidential palace, followed by a mass at a football stadium in the city.
Bosnia has deployed at least 5,000 police officials and also published a helpline number which people can use to report suspicious activities.
The pope's visit is aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation in the country torn due to religious and ethnic tensions between Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Between 1992 and 1995, about 100,000 people were killed in war crimes in the country that depleted its Catholic population. The latest visit is the third for a Pope since the breakaway of Bosnia from socialist Yugoslavia, which led to the Bosnian war.
"Sarajevo is called the Jerusalem of the West," Pope Francis said on Saturday, according to BBC, adding: "It is a city with very different religious and ethnic cultures. It is also a city that has suffered a lot throughout history. It is now undergoing a road of peace and to talk about this is why I'm making this trip, as a sign of peace and as a prayer for peace."
Francis said, according to Reuters, that the peace initiatives between Bosnia's Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks showed "such cooperation among varying ethnic groups and religions in view of the common good is possible," adding: "Even the deepest wounds can be healed by purifying memories and firmly anchoring hopes in the future."
Sarajevo is largely a Muslim city with a total population of nearly 3.8 million, and was once known as Europe’s Jerusalem due to the harmony among Christians, Muslims and Jews. But the Bosnian War ended up displacing half the population, straining the relationship between the communities, the Times reported. Catholics, most of them Croats, reportedly account for only 15 percent of the country’s population.
While the Bosniaks are trying to establish a stronger and more centralized state, the leaders for Orthodox Serbs threaten to secede. Croat nationalists claim that their rights are being threatened and are demanding the creation of their own entity in Bosnia, Reuters reported.