SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Sarajevo unveiled a statue of late Pope John Paul II on Wednesday to honor his efforts to promote peace and reconciliation during and after Bosnia’s 1990s war.
Sarajevo citizens of all faiths - Bosniak Muslims, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs - fondly remember the pope, who was among the first to recognize the new Bosnian state after it proclaimed independence in 1992 from then-Yugoslavia.
John Paul visited the war-shattered Bosnian capital in April 1997, ignoring apparent assassination threats after landmines were found on his route to Sarajevo through territory dominated by nationalist Serbs who had besieged the capital in the war.
“During the war, the Pope’s messages ... were felt as the messages of hope in the whole of Bosnia, and especially in Sarajevo,” Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim Bosniak member of the country’s presidency, told a crowd that came to pay respect.
The three-meter (10-foot) tall statue placed in front of the central Catholic Cathedral of Jesus Heart is cast in an aluminum-based alloy and shows the pope standing with his head bowed in reflection.
John Paul returned to Bosnia in 2003 and visited the country’s autonomous Serb Republic, dominated by Serbs who fought Muslims and Croats during the war.
Popes John Paul and John XXIII were proclaimed as saints by Pope Francis on Sunday at a ceremony in Saint Peter’s Square attended by half a million faithful from around the world.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Mark Heinrich