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A disappearing people?
Interview with Msgr. Franjo Komarica, president of the Bishops´ Conference
The Catholic community of Bosnia and Herzegovina risks disappearing in a few years’ time and if nothing is done to curb the demographic decrease “we may soon identify the last Catholic left. It’s a tragic situation”. Msgr. Franjo Komarica, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina, launched the cry of alarm. Following the meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of South-East Europe in Strasbourg (March 5-7), Msgr. Komarica, interviewed by Maria Chiara Biagioni for Sir Europe, conveyed his gratefulness to the Pope: with the publication on the Osservatore Romano of the letter to Bosnian bishops on the “alarming figures” on the demographic decrease in Bosnia, transmitted by the Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone, the situation has finally come to the fore.
Mgrs. Komarica presented the figures contained in a pastoral letter to the faithful that the bishops wrote past December. Accordingly, the Catholic Church of Bosnia-Herzegovina was severely affected during the 1991-1995 armed conflict. Before the war there were 800 thousand Catholics, while today only half as many - 440 thousand - are left. The worse situation is registered in the diocese of Banja Luka: in 12 years, from 1999 to 2011, the number of Catholics dropped from 52,711 to 35,924. Also Church property suffered “severe” damage: some 1.000 buildings were completely or partially destroyed. But what most concerns the episcopate is the demographic collapse of the Catholic population, which grew worse over the past two decades. Official figures for the dioceses of Bosnia-Herzegovina revealed that there are 441,432 Catholics in the country, amounting to 11.5% of 3,843 000 citizens. Declining birth rates are reason for concern. In 2010, 1,410 more funerals than baptisms were celebrated in parishes of Bosnia-Herzegovina. While in 1996 the number of baptisms was higher (6,739) than funerals (5,272), 2010 registered the opposite trend with 6,136 deaths and 4,726 births.
Msgr. Komarica, what are the causes of such an alarming demographic decline of the Catholic population?
“After the war people were forced to leave the Country, they couldn’t return to their homeland also because they left without the support of the State, which did very little to create the conditions for the repatriation of Bosnian citizens. This largely determined a fall in the presence of Catholic population, which is ongoing”.
What is the reason for Catholic population decline?
“The Catholic community of Bosnia-Herzegovina mostly consists of old people. There are more deaths than births. It’s an ageing population. On the other hand, the youth strive to find a job, they can’t get married and can’t afford to have a family and therefore leave the country”.
What is the Church doing to address the situation?
“Caritas, for example, does its utmost to ensure that people will stay, get married, send their children to school, but political support to ensure that emigrated population will return and that the youth will not leave the Country is still lacking”.
What could the international community do?
“I think the international community should bolster an improvement of this situation to enable Bosnian people to return to their homeland and see there is the Rule of the Law, the right to the same living conditions that existed before the war, namely, the right to stay, work and be born. Local political bodies are inactive to this regard. They could certainly do much more. I thus call upon the international community to exert pressure on them. There have been reiterated appeals. In April a set of Conferences on this problem is scheduled to take place in the 4 interested countries: Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia”.