Pope celebrates stadium Mass in Bosnia

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Pope Francis is celebrating Mass in front of tens of thousands of Catholics at a stadium in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The pontiff’s visit to the capital, Sarajevo, is aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation across the country.

The Pope will also meet members of the Muslim, Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities during his one-day trip.

Bosnia remains divided along religious and ethnic lines, 20 years after its civil war which depleted the Catholic population.

Cardinal Vinko Puljic urged people of all faiths to “keep their ears and hearts open for the pope’s message”.

“We have put a lot of love into the preparations for the visit,” he said. “The city is radiating joy.”

The war between Christian Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks in the early 90s resulted in deep ethnic divisions.

Bosnia-Hercegovina’s Catholics, from the Bosnian Croatian community, are estimated to number 10-15% of the population.

Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said a central aspect of the visit would be boosting the morale of Catholics, many of whom left the country after the conflict.

“In December the 20th anniversary of the war will be remembered but the traces and the wounds of war are still there,” he told AFP news agency.

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Pope Francis will attempt to bolster reconciliation, by encouraging communities to come together.

Speaking to reporters on his flight to Sarajevo, he described Sarajevo as the “Jerusalem of the West”.

“It is a city of very different ethnic and religious cultures. It is even a city that has suffered much during its history. Now it is on a beautiful path of peace. I am making this trip to talk about this, as a sign of peace and a prayer for peace.”

At least 5,000 police are on duty and authorities have published a helpline number if members of the public spot any suspicious activity during the visit.

On Friday local media reported jihadists claiming to be from Islamic State had issued a video, calling for action in the Balkans. However, it is not thought to be linked to the papal visit.

It is 18 years since Pope John Paul II travelled to Sarajevo during a severe snowstorm in 1997. A monument was erected in his honour in 2014.

Read more:http://www.bbc.com

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