Pope Francis has arrived in Sarajevo for a one-day visit, during which he will hold mass for 65,000 people in the Olympic stadium. He is expected to meet with representatives of Bosnia's Muslim and Jewish communities.
Pope Francis, only the second pontiff to visit Sarajevo, has landed at the capital's airport for a one-day visit to the war-torn country.
During his visit, the pope is expected to hold an open air mass for 65,000 people in the country's Olympic stadium.
Around 15 percent of the population identify as Catholic, the majority of them in the Croatian community.
"I encourage you Catholics to stand beside your countrymen as witnesses to your faith and God's love, working for a society that walks toward peace, coexistence and collaboration," Pope Francis said in a video message earlier this week.
The pope's visit comes 20 years after a brutal conflict ushered in by religious enmity left 100,000 dead and displaced half of the population.
"Sarajevo is called the Jerusalem of the West," the pope told reporters while en route to the city.
"It is a city of very different ethnic and religious cultures. It is even a city that has suffered much in its history. Now it is on a beautiful path of peace. That is why I am making this trip, as a sign of peace and a prayer for peace," Pope Francis added.
'Only a few families left'
Sarajevo, once a bastion of multiculturalism, continues to struggle with the aftermath of the war.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, said that the Catholic population in Bosnia was shrinking due to high unemployment rates, topping 67 percent among youth and 43 percent nationally. More than a third of the Catholic Croats have left the country searching for employment opportunities in the EU.
"The consequences of war have been felt particularly by the Catholic community. In some of the parishes, there are only a few families left and most of the faithful are elderly," Parolin said in a statement.
"In December the 20th anniversary of the war will be remembered but the traces and the wounds of war are still there," the cardinal added.
More than 100,000 people are expected to arrive in Sarajevo for the pontiff's visit, which will also witness a meeting between Pope Francis and representatives of the Muslim and Jewish communities in the country.
The pope is expected to urge Catholics to stay in the country to pave a peaceful future for the Balkan state.
ls/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa)