Banja Luka (Fides Service) – “On Sunday next I will go to Bosnia Herzegovina, to confirm in the faith that Catholic community committed to the important path of reconciliation and harmony”. With these words Pope John Paul II announced to the people gathered in St Peter’s Square for the General Audience on 18 June, his 101st apostolic journey when, on Sunday 22 June, he will visit the Bosnia Herzegovina diocese of Banja Luke, where he will beatify Ivan Merz. Fides spoke with Mgr Anton Orlovac, vicar general of Banja Luka diocese, who is also president of the local Church Committee for preparing the Papal Visit.
What is the atmosphere as you await the arrival of the Pope?
On the whole the climate is positive, most people are waiting with joy for this most important event, the visit of the Holy Father, John Paul II. Of course our situation is particular, but there are also those who show indifference, and some voices do not fit in with the general atmosphere. The media however, printed and electronic, is trying to build a positive climate. Local politicians are also helping to build this climate: they say that the event is an opportunity to show our “maturity”, to show that Banja Luka is able to offer a worthy welcome to such an important guest.
What situation in society and in the local Church will the Pope find?
He will find a scarred society and a scarred Church. But the scars are gradually healing, although the process is long and arduous. Unemployment, requests for homes not met, numerous exiles still unable to return to their homes, many people cannot live on what they earn…these are some of the problems which worry us. The local Church does all it can, mainly through Caritas, to alleviate these situations, but much help is still needed. The Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina is half the size it was before the war. In Banja Luka the situation is even worse: the diocesan community, previously 130,000, is today only 42,000.
On what fronts is the Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina most active?
The Church shares the plight and sufferings of Catholics and all the people. As far as it is in our power we try to help the people to live decently, to guarantee a minimum condition of life to repatriates. We also strive to help people remain here, not to leave their families. In the religious field the Church is committed to renewing and rebuilding ecumenical relations with Orthodox Christians, which were broken, and also to increase dialogue with the Muslim population. Once this is done then there will come the time to rebuild churches and other church buildings, which will take years.
The main purpose of the Pope’s visit is to beatify Ivan Merz, a great apostle of youth. What aspects of his spirituality are still important today?
Ivan Merz is important for today in many ways. As an apostle of youth he showed that it is possible to be saints, even as lay believers, living among the people of our day. Of course we must strive for holiness, building our inner life with the liturgy and the Eucharist, opening our eyes to the needs of others and giving them concrete help. Saints are not strange people, they are people like you and me, living among us. We must discover them and follow them. Today young people are in search of examples, at times they take the wrong path: in this sense Ivan Merz can be deeply inspiring for them. He will help them not to fall into the temptation of drug addiction, alcohol, laziness, apathy and irresponsibility: evils all too frequently present today.
Bosnia-Herzegovina– (Church Book of statistic 2001)
Population 4.070.000; Catholics 461.000 (11,3%); ecclesiastical circumscriptions 3; parishes 282; other pastoral centres 2; bishops 4 (to 31/5/2003); diocesan priests 237; religious priests 346; Brothers 15; Sisters 508; members of secular institutes 17; Catechists 38; minor seminarians 114; major seminarians 116; infant and primary schools 8 (with 2.016 pupils); middle and high schools 5 (1.520 pupils); charity and social centres: 2.
Banja Luka diocese – Church Book of statistic 2001)
Population 560.000 ; Catholics 45.213; parishes 47; diocesan priests 22; religious priests 51; major seminarians 5; Brothers 52; Sisters 76.
Blessed Ivan Merz (1896-1928)
Ivan Merz was born in Banja Luka on 16 December 1896. After a brief period at Wiener Neustadt military academy, in 1915 he enrolled at Vienna University: he wanted to be a teacher so he could devote himself to educating young people in Bosnia. In March 1916 he was enlisted in the army and sent to the Italian front where he spent most of 1917 and 1918. The experience of war contributed to his rapid spiritual growth: indignant at the horrors witnessed, he placed his future in the hands of God and vowed to strive with all his strength towards Christian perfection. After the war he returned to Vienna to continue his studies (1919-1920) and later went to Paris (1920-1922), where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy. He began to teach French language and literature at the high school run by the archdiocese of Zagreb, fulfilling his duties with exemplary dedication, and became known above all for his apostolate among youth first in the League of Young Croats and then in the Croat League of Eagles with which Catholic Action was started in Croatia at the wish of Pius XI. Ivan thought that the Organisation should help first of all to form an elite of apostles of holiness. This was also the purpose of the Liturgical Reform of which he was one of the first promoters in Croatia, anticipating by four decades the ideas of the Second Vatican Council. In his work he met with misunderstanding and difficulties, which he faced with admirable calm, fruit of his union with God in prayer. Convinced that the most powerful means to save souls was suffering offered to the Lord, he offered his physical and moral sufferings to obtain blessings on his apostolic works and, shortly before he died, he offered his young life for his Eagles. He died in Zagreb at the age of 32, on 10 May 1928, leaving behind him authentic fame of holiness. SL (Fides Service 20/6/2003 EM lines 83 Words: 1033)