The Muslim, the Catholic cardinal, and the church in Bosnia that could help heal deep divisions

Madeleine Teahan   By Madeleine Teahan for CNA


Sacred Heart Cathedral in Sarajevo, where Pope Francis met with priests, religious, and seminarians, June 6, 2015. / Andreas Duren/CNA.

CNA Newsroom, Aug 30, 2022 / 03:34 am (CNA).

A prominent Bosnian cardinal has said that “forgiveness can be achieved” following the consecration of a Catholic church in the town of Bugojno in central Bosnia.

Cardinal Vinko Puljic, who is retired, blessed the new church — Our Lady of the Angels — earlier this month on the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels and told the Sarajevo Times: “In its own way, it is preserving the memory of our past and our trust in Our Lady’s intercession. Our world is especially devoted to Our Lady, and on this day, complete forgiveness can be achieved.”

Cardinal Vinko Puljić in Marija Bistrica, Croatia, in 2012. via Wikimedia.
Cardinal Vinko Puljić in Marija Bistrica, Croatia, in 2012. via Wikimedia.

The new church is perceived as a symbol of peace in a location where notorious violence broke out between Catholics and Muslims during the Bosnian war (1992-1995).

The devastating war erupted following the dissolution of Yugoslavia and resulted in an estimated 100,000 deaths. A significant proportion of Croats who lived in Bugojno and once made up a third of its inhabitants were expelled from the region during the bloody conflict, while others were killed or imprisoned.

Our Lady of the Angels was built after Husejn Smajic, a 68-year-old Muslim, discovered the foundations of a medieval church on his property.

It is believed that the skeleton also discovered is that of Queen Jelena Gruba, who is thought to have ruled the Kingdom of Bosnia from September 1395 until late spring 1398.

Using his own money and other donations, the Muslim agreed with Cardinal Puljic that an identical church should be built near this archaeological site as a gesture toward peace and unity.

Smajic told the Sarajevo Times: “I did it for the love of this people, for the love of our country, for the love of unity, so that we don’t separate but respect each other as people. So that we don’t become tribes. I do all this for peace, respect among nations.”

According to France 24, the blessing of the church was attended by hundreds of people, followed by dancing and a traditional Bosnian BBQ.

In a further step toward peace and reconciliation, donations towards the new project have come from Croat, Muslim and Serb communities.

Hussein Smajic regards the mixing of different religious and ethnic communities as essential to the region’s richness. He told AFP: “I did this so that people can see that we can all live together. There cannot be beauty of life here without the mixture of communities. It is our wealth.”

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