(Vatican Radio) The expected arrival of Pope Francis in Bosnia-Herzegovina is expected to be welcomed by the country's heavily Catholic Croat community at a time when the nation is preparing for a sad anniversary.
Listen to the report by regional correspondent Stefan Bos:
Pope Francis will visit Sarajevo while Bosnia-Herzegovina seeks unity to heal the wounds of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, which claimed over 100,000 lives.
Some two decades after the U.S. sponsored Dayton peace accords ended that conflict, the country is still deeply divided, complicating attempts to solve corruption, high unemployment and political
Tensions remain especially between mainly Orthodox Serbs with their Serb Republic - or Republika Srpska - and the Federation, the other autonomous region dominated by Bosnian Muslims and Catholic Croats.
Many still mourn over the thousands of people who were killed or taken to concentration camps during Serb efforts in the 1990s to drive out non-Serbs.
The pontiff is in Bosnia-Herzegovina at a time when the Balkan country prepares for the 20th anniversary of an atrocity on a scale not seen in Europe since the Holocaust.
On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces entered the town of Srebrenica, killing about 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Last Friday, the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague upheld sentences of five men convicted over the Srebrenica massacre. Vujadin Popović and Ljubiša Beara were sentenced to life prisonment, while Drago Nikolić must serve 35 years’, Radivoje Miletić 18 years’ and Vinko Pandurević 13 years’ behind bars.
But for survivors the pain remains. "I was very much hurt by the fact that the word “genocide” was not mentioned at all in the reading of the convictions," said Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group.
"The sentence of Miletic was even lowered, while he is responsible for killing children, killing and raping women and killing old people,” she added.
Yet amid the suffering, Pope Francis has called for prayers. He wants this first papal trip to Sarajevo in 18 years to contribute to brotherhood and peace.
Bosnia's small Catholic population is expected to answer his call to pray for the visit.
Despite difficulties, Croat Catholics often gather including in Medjugorje, a famous pilgrimage site at an altitude of 200 meters above sea level.
Catholic aid workers have said there are some 440,000 Catholics in the Balkan nation, half the prewar figure.
That's why prayers will reverberate throughout the mountains ahead of Pope Francis intention to personally encourage the country's Catholics not to give up hope.