Former Pope’s Statue Unveiled in Bosnian Capital

A three-metre statue of Pope John Paul II was unveiled in Sarajevo at a ceremony attended by thousands of Catholics and other citizens of Sarajevo.

As a gesture of gratitude to former Pope John Paul II, recently procaimed a saint, a statue of the Catholic leader was unveiled in Sarajevo on April 30 to the delight of Bosnian Catholics and many other interested citizens in the mainly Muslim city.

The statue, made from a type of alumimium, represents the former Pontiff in an attitude of prayer.

‘With this statue, the Pope will symbolically continue being with us,’ said Franjo Topic, head of the Croatian Cultural Society Napredak, who initiated the campaign to erect the statue. ‘We are paying him back a little with this,’ he added.

The statue, which stands to the right of the main entrance to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in the centre of Sarajevo, is the work of the Croatian sculptor Hrvoje Urumovic, who was born in Sarajevo but lives in Zagreb.

Speeches about the Polish Pontiff, who reigned as Pope from 1978 to 2005, focused on his stand for peace and his many messages calling for ethnic and religious harmony in the war-torn Bosnia of the early 1990s.

John Paul II visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in person in April 1997, bringing new hope to a country that was fresh out of the horrors of the 1992-5 war. He had wanted to come during the war, in 1994, but no one could then guarantee his safety.

Around 50,000 people then filled Sarajevo’s Kosevo Stadium to hear the Pope call for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

He urged peace in the Balkan country many times during the war, for which he is remembered as a peacemaker and is respected by many Bosnians regardless of their faith.

‘He mentioned Bosnia and Herzegovina 263 times in his speeches,’ Topic noted.

Sarajevo’s Cardinal Archbishop, Vinko Puljic, speaking before he and Topic unveiled the statue, said that they wanted to ‘thank all the good-doers who realized that this statue is for all of us and participated with donations’. The Cardinal added: ‘Thank you, citizens of Sarajevo, for accepting this.’

The Bosniak [Muslim] chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, who was present at the ceremony, said the statue represented a memory of a great man and a humanist, and that many citizens remembered him for his good deeds.

‘We have to recall his messages all the time,’ Izetbegovic said. ‘When returning to Rome, the Pope in 1997 said, ‘Never again a war.’ His words were like balm.’

After his April 1997 visit to Bosnia, the Pope returned to Bosnia again in 2003, this time to Banja Luka.

Catholics are by far the smallest of Bosnia’s three main faith groups – Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics.

However, Bosnia is home to one of Europe’s biggest Catholic shrines, at Medjugorje, in the southwest, near Mostar.