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Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia Honor Gethsemane

Their names were Pavao, Anton and Jakov. They were brothers, Christians, knights, originally from Sarajevo. They were wealthy.

In 1681, as subjects of the Ottoman Empire, they acquired land that until then had been owned by the Waqf Muslim religious authority. Once they had acquired the lots, the brothers donated them to the Franciscans. In this way, the Custody came into possession of the main part of what is today the garden of Gethsemane, in which the Basilica of the Agony was built over the ruins of a Byzantine church.

It is this donation that, 333 years later, a group of pilgrims from Bosnia-Herzegovina came to celebrate in a solemn ceremony on Saturday, March 29th, with mass and the blessing of a commemorative plaque.

They were led by His Eminence Vinko Puljić, the Croatian cardinal of Bosnia-Herzegovina and archbishop of Sarajevo, accompanied by Mgr. Tomo Vukšić, bishop of the armed forces, and Fr. Lovro Gavran, the provincial of Bosnia. Also present were Zivko Budimir, President of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Ivo Komsic, the mayor of Sarajevo.

Mgr. Giuseppe Lazzarotto, the Apostolic Delegate, and Fra Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custos of the Holy Land, concelebrated the Eucharist and participated in the official ceremony that followed.

The Custos spoke briefly, underlining the common destinies of Jerusalem and Sarajevo, two cities that have both been under many different rules, rules that brought with them different religious groups that have to live together. Here, as there, the Church has worked to maintain a Christian character, as much for the local Christians as for foreign visitors. A relationship between the cities was forged in the past, as this ceremony commemorates, and today that relationship is rekindled and even stronger.

“Jerusalem,” the Custos continued, “has been able to maintain its Christian identity thanks to the generosity of Christians around the world, and here at Gethsemane, thanks to those Bosnian brothers. Our future plunges it roots into the past. This plaque will bear witness for the multitude of Bosnian and Croat pilgrims to the faith that unites us.”

Several Croat friars who are serving in the Custody (there are six of them, along with three seminarians), participated in the ceremony, sharing the past of what today is Bosnia-Herzegovina. For Fra Bernard, who is serving at Mount Tabor, “The first time I came here, our guide taught us about the relationship between the Holy Land and us. From now on, other pilgrims will find out about it by reading the plaque.” For Fra Jago from Bethlehem, the inscription in the stone of this historic site is as important for showing the way to the future as for celebrating the past. Fra Bozo, a Franciscan seminarian in Jerusalem, expressed joy and pride: “So many countries have helped the Custody, but our little nation was able to offer Gethsemane, and today we can continue to serve the Holy Land.”

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