Archbishop of Sarajevo describes war's horrors Bosnian cardinal visits as advocate for ethnic, religious understanding

October 13, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Cardinal Vinko Puljic, Archbishop of Sarajevo, stood in simple green vestments before a noontime congregation yesterday at St. Ignatius Church and quietly but pointedly told of the horror of war that has brought unspeakable tragedy to his country.

Puljic, a pilgrim of peace from Bosnia who is in Baltimore to advocate ethnic and religious cooperation, spoke at the Calvert Street church of a grenade that exploded in a Sarajevo marketplace, killing and maiming dozens, and of one little girl whose leg was blown off.

"She didn't feel any pain at that moment," Puljic said through a translator. "An elderly gentleman was picking her up and the girl told him, 'Uncle, uncle, you forgot to take my leg.' How is it possible in the 20th century for such events to take place?"

Puljic, who at 53 is the Roman Catholic Church's youngest cardinal and was elevated at the same November 1994 ceremony as Baltimore's Cardinal William H. Keeler, has long been a champion of a multiethnic, multireligious Bosnia. He opposed partitioning the country along ethnic and religious lines in the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war.

He will speak on that vision at an interfaith prayer service at 7 o'clock tonight at the Basilica of the Assumption on Cathedral Street.

"Cardinal Puljic is working so hard to overcome the enmities of the past and to show people that the different faiths, which all affirm that violence is wrong and peace is good, are all able to stand together in prayer," Keeler said. "And it gives us a chance to show solidarity with his people as they continue to work their way through the aftermath of those terrible days of conflict and combat."

Also visiting Memphis

Puljic also came to the United States to visit Memphis, Tenn., to thank the people who have helped in bringing dozens of Croatian children with congenital heart disease to that city for surgery.

This medical mission is led by a Memphis priest, the Rev. Joseph Kerrigan, and a cardiologist, Dr. William Novick, who have written a book, "Healing the Heart of Croatia."

Kerrigan and Puljic, who wrote an afterword, will sign copies of the book at 3 p.m. today at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the Power Plant in downtown Baltimore.

The Bosnia that Puljic, an ethnic Croat who was born in the northwestern Bosnia village of Banja Luka, said he remembers was a mosaic of Muslim, Croatian Catholic and Serbian Orthodox villages that coexisted peacefully.

'Life together'

"Before the war in Bosnia, different ethnic groups had lived in their own towns or villages and it was known that one village was a Catholic village, another village was Orthodox, another village was Muslim," Puljic said. "Cities in Bosnia have always been mixed. But in the villages, ethnic groups lived together side-by-side. They lived in a Muslim village, but they worked, traded, lived together with their neighbors from another village who were Catholics. And there was life together."

The peace accords, he said, only legitimized the gains that were won through ethnic cleansing. "The Dayton accord has stopped the war but hasn't brought a just solution to the whole conflict," he said.

The accord partitioned the country into a Serbian Republic and a Muslim-Croat Federation.

"In that solution, they did an injustice to Serbs who want to come back to the Muslim and Croat area, and Croats and Muslims who want to return to the Serbian area, because they are not recognized in those entities," he said.

Puljic was critical of international authorities for not intervening sooner in the Balkan conflict, and said the same thing is true now in the repression of ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Had there been international intervention sooner, the cardinal said, much bloodshed could have been avoided. But now, he sees no alternative to NATO air strikes against the Serb army.

Prevention vs. treatment

"We have a saying, and I believe you have it too, it is better to prevent [an illness] than to treat it," he said. "If the air strikes of NATO are the only medicine -- the only instrument to stop the evil -- let them take place. So if drugs are not sufficient, then you have to do surgery."

In Bosnia, the important task that lies ahead is repatriating refugees to the homes they left during the war.

The success of Bosnia's rebuilding is of paramount importance to the rest of Europe, Puljic said.

"It is a very simple question," he said. "Europe is taking an exam in Bosnia-Herzegovina. If Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot be multiethnic, multireligious, multinational, then Europe cannot be that way."

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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