Kardinal Vinko Puljić/FOTO: Davor Javorovic/PIXSELL
The Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Sarajevo; May 16, 2020, 12:15 p.m.
Welcoming remarks by Cardinal Vinko Puljić, Archbishop and Metropolitan of Sarajevo, on the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Bleiburg Tragedy
At the beginning of this Holy Mass, which we offer today for all the Bleiburg casualties as well as for all the wartime and postwar casualties, I extend my sincere greetings to all of you who are present at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Sarajevo, as well as to those of you following the Mass on television and radio.
On behalf of all the Catholic bishops among the Croatian people, and especially on my own behalf, I extend sincere greetings to all of you collectively and to each and every one of you individually who have joined us in prayer for the many victims of violence.
I also extend greetings to the Bishop of Klagenfurt-Gurk and all the faithful of his diocese, where the Bleiburg field is located.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year we were unable to gather on the Bleiburg field, where we have traditionally assembled and prayed for the souls of the departed.
Homily by Cardinal Vinko Puljić, Archbishop and Metropolitan of Sarajevo
The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Tragedy on Bleiburg Field
May 16, 2020
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate!
Dear Brother Concelebrants!
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
To be present at this Holy Mass for the casualties of the Bleiburg field and all the victims of hatred is not possible without trepidation of the heart and soul. Reverence and trust in God spontaneously fill our hearts. That is why I immediately accepted the invitation from all the bishops of the Croatan nation to celebrate the Holy Mass at this prayerful commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the tribulations endured by our compatriots and other victims.
In the first place, we want to pray, so that our prayer may cleanse us of all the bitterness and we tend to feel as human beings when remembering this suffering. Today we are gathered in prayer, offering this most sacred act in order to pay due respects to all the victims. Though homage, we wish to preserve the memory of these victims, as is fitting, but also of the price of the freedom that we are experiencing today or, even better, building. Thereby, we shall renew our appreciation of our present life, while everyone seems to be pushing the value of suffering aside. We also find confirmation in the words of St. John Paul II:
“But the future of peace, while largely entrusted to institutional formulations, which have to be effectively drawn up by means of sincere dialogue and in respect for justice, depend no less decisively on a renewed solidarity of minds and hearts. […] For the edifice of peace to be solid, against the background of so much blood and hatred, it will have to be built on the courage of forgiveness. People must know how to ask for forgiveness and to forgive! This does not mean that crimes should not also be penalized by human justice—which is necessary and obligatory—but justice is very far from any blind instinct of revenge, and allows itself rather to be guided by a strong sense of the common good that aims at winning back those who err” (John Paul II, Undelivered Greeting to the President of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, intended for the cancelled Apostolic Visit of September 8, 1994).
RESPECT FOR THE VICTIMS
Human culture, whether Christian or pagan, has always had special reverence for the deceased and their graves. Unfortunately, where hatred reigned, the sense of reverence was lost. We cannot forget our dead, even when they died natural deaths, and especially if they were killed by hatred. In particular, we cannot forget those whose earthly lives were cut short under such dire circumstances, who were tortured and whose lives were taken so inhumanely. We ask ourselves what values someone who fails to respect such victims can have. I am afraid to live with people to whom nothing is sacred or those who can trample upon what is holy to others.
In a letter regarding the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the bishops of the Croatian Conference of Bishops issued the following statement on May 1, 1995:
“We shall, therefore, on this anniversary, humbly before God and sincerely before men, pay Christian homage to all the victims, in the first place the victims of the Second World War, but also recent victims, as well as those prior to the Second World War in our territories, filled with blood and tears throughout most of the twentieth century. We shall pray for the eternal rest of all the casualties, the right of every person to life and dignity under divine protection. Therefore, we owe equal respect to each innocent victim. There can be no racial, national, confessional or political differentiation. The fundamental equality of the dignity of all people is derived from the very nature of man, created in the image and likeness of God. Individual and, especially, mass liquidations, without any court trials or evidence of guilt, are always and everywhere grave crimes before God and man”
TO REMOVE THE VEIL OF SECRECY
I am profoundly distressed by the fact that so far during my lifetime, and I was born in the year when this tragedy befell our nation, that the veil of secrecy has still not been removed and all the graves have still not been discovered where our massacred people were buried or, better to say, disposed of and, in some places covered over with concrete. The time when I was born was a period of an outpouring of hatred, under the guise of victory, without court trials, arbitrarily, by those who seethed with loathing.
I grew up in an atmosphere where this was only whispered. It was forbidden speak or write anything about it. Only here and there, during May and June, candles appeared on the fields where mass graves were located, at the places of execution where the crimes had occurred. Now nearly everyone who remembered this has died, so there are no longer candles in the fields and forests to commemorate the memory of the victims of hatred.
Today we remember all those who perished in camps, mountains, valleys and fields, from the Bleiburg field via Dravograd and Maribor, Ogulin and Gospić, Jazovka and the forests of Macelj, Jasenovac and Glina, Kozara and Podgradci, Križevci and Bjelovar, to Srijemska Mitrovica and Sarajevo, Foča and Zenica, Široki Brijeg and Mostar. In our prayers, let us include all the casualties from other towns and villages, whether or not we know where their mortal remains lie. We ask ourselves when the silence will be lifted from these graves. This largely depends on the current authorities.
“THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE”
It is clearly necessary to create a climate of coexistence, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration of trust. However, these important precepts for building peace rest upon the foundations of truth. It is not possible to build a process of reconciliation and trust without inner catharsis, based upon the following words of the Gospel: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). As human beings and believers, we must call everything by its rightful name, and point out facts that cannot and must not be refuted. Only by accepting the truth, however bitter it may be, can there be restoration of trust among people. Whoever does not want the truth stands behind the evil he defends and, thus, sustains negative energy among people. Such a person is not a builder of peace but a spreader of evil.
No crime can be defended. Whoever does not distance himself from a crime becomes a participant and co-perpetrator in the crime. This applies to both the individual and the community.
Crime is not healed by crime! In 1997, when St. John Paul II was in here Sarajevo, he addressed the following words to us:
“Forgiveness, in its truest and highest form, is a free act of love, as was the reconciliation offered by God to man through the cross and death of his incarnate Son, the only righteous one. Of course, forgiveness, far from precluding the search for truth, actually requires it, because an essential requisite for forgiveness and reconciliation is justice. But it still remains true that asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of man” (John Paul II, Homily, Mass at Koševo Stadium, April 13, 1997).
No one has the right to ignore these victims, for whom we pray today. We Christians believe in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead, as well as the immortality of the soul. From this belief, we pray and pay our due respect to the earthly remains of all the victims.
Likewise, no one has the right to tamper with the painful wounds of those have suffered the loss of their loved ones. No one has the right to denigrate the sacrifices of those who have incorporated parts of their bodies into this soil. This soil, which we call our homeland, has been sanctified by many sacrifices. If we fail to respect this, we are lacking in human, religious and national dignity. I do not intend to provoke bitterness or hatred, and especially not vengeance, but to state clearly that genuine dialogue that leads to reconciliation begins with the acceptance of the truth.
In this regard, Pope Benedict XVI stated the following:
“To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, rejoices in the truth (cf. 1 Cor 13:6)” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate—In Charity and Truth, No. 1).
TO WRITE HISTORY ON THE BASIS OF FACTS, NOT POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
A type of history is currently being written in which sufferings are relativized, purportedly to build trust and stability in the region. Remembering these victims can in no way be construed as an incendiary act, such as what occurred during the 1990s prior to the Homeland War, but rather as an act for the upholding of personal dignity, intended to foster human and religious reverence for innocent victims.
Therefore, I wish to reiterate that no one has the right to ignore these victims, for whom we pray today. We Christians believe in eternal life and the resurrection of the dead, as well as the immortality of the soul. From this belief, we pray and pay our due respect to the earthly remains of all the victims.
I commend all the genuine researchers and seekers of the historical truth who gather facts. It is not possible to demonize one insignia under which crimes were committed while glorifying another insignia under which these crimes were committed and forcing the public to accept it.
Today, by commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Bleiburg casualties, who were victims of hatred and violence, we want to send a loud but dignified message that the manipulation of the victims must be stopped.
History is not built upon politicization and manipulation but upon the basis of facts, taking the causes and consequences into account. We want the double standard in regard to the homage paid to the victims of hatred and massacres to stop. Each of these deceased persons has someone whose heart bleeds, not only because the deceased were tortured and killed, but because the truth has been negated in the name of political “truth,” mythology and power controlled by some other interests.
BUILDING THE CIVILIZATION OF LOVE
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, looking down from the Mount of Olives, he saw his beloved city and wept over it: “If this day you only knew what makes for peace” (Lk 19:42). How could he not weep when his beloved city scorned the proclamation of the truth! Like Jesus, we stand today before our nation and exclaim: If you only knew how to appreciate the sacrifices made by your ancestors, you would be able to build the here and now! The future of a nation is built by the one who rocks the cradle. We read the Bible but have not learned that the chosen people perceived their homeland as a gift from God. It is holy because God gave it to us. It is holy because it is drenched in the blood of so many innocent victims, so many tears and the sweat of our ancestors. Our ancestors bequeathed to us what is most sacred: the holy faith, the baptismal font, devotion to the Mother of God, the symbol of our identity—the honorable cross, the golden freedom of the children of God, and fidelity to the Successor of Peter.
During the Great Jubilee of 2000, St. Pope John Paul II encouraged us with the following words:
“Forgiven and ready to forgive, Christians enter the third millennium as more credible witnesses to hope. After centuries marked by violence and destruction, especially the last tragic one, the Church offers humanity, as it crosses the threshold of the third millennium, the Gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation, a prerequisite for building genuine peace” (John Paul II, Angelus, Sunday, March 12, 2000).
No one can build a civilization of love who is not brave enough to accept the truth and follow the Way the Cross of Jesus Christ, who prays for his enemies and forgives them. We want to be worthy descendants of those who have left us the legacy of faith in Christ, love of the Church and Homeland, and profound respect toward all people, particularly toward all innocent victims. We are called to love our holy heritage, live and die for it, and bequeath it to future generations.
I conclude with the words of Pope Francis:
“The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae vultus—The Face of Mercy, No. 12).