Pope Francis flies into Sarajevo with message of peace

Pope Francis arrived in Sarajevo on Saturday for a visit aimed at bolstering reconciliation between war-scarred Bosnia’s Serb, Croat and Muslim communities. The one-day trip comes 20 years after the end of a 1992-95 conflict that ripped the Balkan state apart and left it permanently divided along ethnic lines. Around 5,000 police officers were on duty for the 10-hour visit, during which more than 100,000 people are expected to turn out to see the Argentinian pontiff. As Francis’s plane touched down just after 0700 GMT, tens of thousands of people were already waiting for him in Sarajevo’s Olympic stadium ahead of an open air mass later in the day.

Sarajevo has been called the Jerusalem of the West. It is a city that has suffered much in its history but is now on a beautiful path of peace. That is why I am making this trip, as a sign of peace and a prayer for peace.

Pope Francis, speaking to reporters on his flight from Rome

While the Vatican has played down security concerns, local media have made much of a video published this week by a group of Islamists who called for jihad in the Balkans. More than a third of Bosnia’s mostly Catholic Croats have left Bosnia since the war and the country of 3.8 million people is divided in two between a Bosnian Serb republic and a Croat-Muslim federation. Sarajevo, once a beacon of multiculturalism, is also now largely split along ethnic lines. Against that backdrop, Vatican officials believe Francis can have a positive impact by promoting the kind of inter-faith dialogue he holds dear.