Sarajevo (AsiaNews) – Being "witnesses to the Cross", remembering the past and its cruelties, yet forgiving as brothers are things that matter to Pope Francis. This was especially the case during the poignant meeting the pontiff had this afternoon with priests, religious and seminarians in Sarajevo’s cathedral, which was restored after suffering damages during the war.
After the initial greetings from Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo, a priest, a man religious and a woman religious were expected to tell their stories. After hearing tales of war, cruelty, but also human closeness Francis put aside his prepared speech. “I will give the address I had prepared, which has its own appeal, to the Cardinal Archbishop,” he said.
“The witnesses’ accounts speak for themselves. And this is the memory of your people! A people that forgets the past has no future. This is the memory of your fathers and mothers in the faith: only three people have spoken, but behind them, there are many, many others who suffered the same things.
“Dear sisters, dear brothers, you do not have the right to forget your own history. Not for the purpose of revenge, but rather to make peace. Not to look [at these testimonies] as something odd, but through them to love as they have loved. In your blood, in your vocation, there is the vocation and the blood of these three martyrs. And it is the blood and the vocation of many Religious women and men, many priests, many seminarians. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, I beg you, do not forget your elders, these who have handed on the faith to you. ‘These’ (pointing to the ones who testified) have handed on to you a witness as to how to live the faith. The same author tells us, ‘Do not forget Jesus Christ,’ the first Martyr. And these have walked in the footsteps of the Jesus.
“Keeping memory alive so as to make peace. Some words struck my heart. One of them, repeated, “Forgiveness”. A man, a woman who is consecrated to the Lord’s service who does not know how to forgive, is not helpful. To forgive a friend who swore at you, or someone with whom you have argued, or a sister who is jealous of you, this is not all that difficult. But to forgive the one who slaps you in the face, who tortures you, who abuses you, who threatens to shoot you . . . this is difficult. And these three have done it, and they teach others to do it.
“Another thing that struck me in their talks was mention of the one hundred and twenty days spent in the concentration camp. How many times the spirit of the world makes us forget our ancestors, the sufferings of our forebears! Those days are counted, not in days, but by the minute, because every minute, every hour is torture. To live together like this, dirty, with no food or water, in the heat and cold – and for a long time! And we, who complain when we have a toothache, or who want to have a television in our comfortable rooms, or who whisper behind the back of our Superior when the meals are not so good . . . Do not forget, I beg of you, the witness of your ancestors. Think of how much these persons have suffered; think of the six litres of blood that this priest had to receive – he, the first one who spoke – in order to survive. Conform your lives worthily to the Cross of Christ.
“Worldly sisters, priests, bishops, and seminarians are a caricature, and are of no use to the Church. They do not remember the martyrs. They have lost the memory of Jesus Christ crucified, our only glory.
“Another thing that comes to mind is the story of the soldier who gave a pear to the Sister; and that Muslim woman who now lives in America, who brought something to eat . . . We are all brothers and sisters. Even the cruel man has thought . . . Well, I don’t know what he thought, but he felt the Holy Spirit in his heart and perhaps he thought of his mother and said, “Have this pear and say nothing to anyone”. And the Muslim woman who reached out beyond her own religious tradition: she loved. She believed in God and she did good.
“Look for the good of everyone. Each person has potential, the seed of goodness. We are all children of God.
“You are blessed who have such witnesses so close to you: Do not forget them, please. Your life will grow with this memory. I think of that priest, whose father died when he was a child, and later his mother, and then his sister, leaving him alone . . . But he was the fruit of a love, a marital love. Think of that Sister-martyr: she too was the daughter in a family. And remember the Franciscan, the one with two sisters who are Franciscan Religious; and I think also of what the Cardinal just said: what is happening in the garden of life, namely, the family? An awful thing is happening: the family is not producing fruit. Pray for families, so that they may have many children and that there may also be many vocations.
“Finally, I wish to say to you that this has been a story of cruelty. Even today, in this world war we see many, many, many acts of cruelty. Do always the opposite of cruelty: have an attitude of tenderness, of brotherhood, of forgiveness. And carry the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Church, holy Mother Church, wants it this way: small, tiny martyrdoms, before these small martyrs, these small witnesses to the Cross of Jesus.”