Archbishop Gallagher visits Bosnia-Herzegovina: 'May religious leaders be custodians of peace'
During his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States, expressed his solidarity with the nation's young people, remembering in particular young Ukrainians, "our brothers and sisters oppressed by bombs and fear" and those "from so many other parts of the world who are working to realize dreams of peace."
Archbishop Gallagher's visit from 17 to 20 March began in Sarajevo, where he was accompanied by Msgr. Janusz Błachowiak, Nunciature counsellor serving in the Secretariat of State.
Meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Following his arrival and welcome by a delegation receiving him at the airport, Archbishop Gallagher met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bisera Turković, who had invited him to visit the country last February. The talks were cordial and took place in the context of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Holy See.
Appreciation was expressed in particular for the positive bilateral relations and for the contribution of the local Church to society. Discussions followed on the implementation of the Agreements signed between the Holy See and Bosnia and Herzegovina and the life of the Catholic community.
Archbishop Gallagher and Mr. Turković then focused on the internal situation of the country, reiterating the need to support the legal and social equality of all citizens belonging to each constituent people, as well as the importance of dialogue to find a way out of the current institutional crisis by drawing lessons from the recent past.
Discussions also took place on a number of regional issues, including the situation in the western Balkan countries, the enlargement of the European Union, the war in Ukraine, as well as the situation of migrants and refugees. Finally, the Holy See's support for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the path to full unity among the family of European peoples was reaffirmed.
Mass for peace in Sarajevo
Also on the first day, Archbishop Gallagher met at the Nunciature with the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, and Angelina Eichhorst, Director for Europe and Central Asia at the European External Action Service, accompanied by the Ambassador of the European Union in Sarajevo, Johann Sattler.
Afterwards, the Archbishop celebrated a Mass "for peace" at Sarajevo's Cathedral, recalling in his homily how Bosnia and Herzegovina, a land where different cultures and traditions meet and have sometimes clashed, is in special need of the gift of peace and of peace builders.
The first day of his visited concluded with a dinner offered by Minister Turković, attended by officials of his Ministry and representatives of the local Church.
Remembering young "bridge builders"
The second day of his visit on Friday, 18 March, consisted of a series of bilateral meetings with members of the Collegiate Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Zoran Tegeltija, President of the Council of Ministers, and with representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly.
After arriving in Banja Luka at the bishop's residence, Archbishop Gallagher met with the President of the Republic of Serbia, Željka Cvijanović, accompanied by her collaborators.
Afterwards, he celebrated a Mass "for reconciliation" at the Cathedral, addressing his thoughts to the youth of every country, especially Ukrainians. In his homily, he said, "Young people, who are the future of this country, of this Church, of the whole world, are builders of bridges of reconciliation. Accompanied with their civil and ecclesiastical authorities, they are invited to not be discouraged and to increase initiatives to further a climate of reconciliation, encounter and peace."
Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue
On Saturday, 19 March, the Secretary for Relations with States held a meeting at the Nunciature with representatives of the Christian churches and other religious denominations.
Quoting Pope Francis, Archbishop Gallagher recalled that religious leaders are the first custodians of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He expressed hope that dialogue between religious communities in the country will help rebuild and maintain the existing bridges, the only structures capable of keeping us alive, guaranteeing a future, and not discouraging us from the difficulties that can occasionally arise.
In response, the participants expressed their interest in travelling to Rome to visit the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Afterwards, Archbishop Gallagher visited the Temporary Reception Center in Ušivak, meeting with some of the refugees. On his way to Mostar in the afternoon, he met with Mayor Mario Kordić at the bishop's residence and then with the bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who presented the pastoral work of the local Church, ecumenical and interreligious commitments, as well as challenges they are facing such as the emigration of Catholics.
The Bishops also expressed their strong support for European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Visit to Medjugorje
In the evening, Mass was celebrated at the Cathedral to mark the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Patron of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno.
The Cathedral was packed with the faithful, including the local bishops and some bishops from nearby Croatia and Montenegro, as well as numerous religious women and men.
During the celebration, Archbishop Gallagher said, "Tonight, we wish to ask St. Joseph to give us the ability to dream, steadfast 'in hope against all hope.' When we dream great things, we come closer to God's dream, that is, the things that God dreams about us, so divisions in society and also those within the Church may end."
Finally, on Sunday, 20 March, Archbishop Gallagher reached Medjugorje for a courtesy meeting with Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, Apostolic Visitor for the parish of Medjugorje, accompanied by Fr. Miljenko Šteko, Provincial of the Friars Minor of Herzegovina, and the Community of Franciscan Religious of the parish.
He visited the parish church, as well as some pastoral buildings. He then departed for Split and, while waiting for his return flight to Rome, met with Archbishop Marin Barišić of Split-Makarska, together with the Nuncio Archbishop Giorgio Lingua. He returned to the Vatican in the evening.