Catholic Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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The Catholic Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the pope in Rome.



Metropolis and dioceses at the end of the 4th century:
  Metropolis of Sirmium
  Diocese of Salonae
  Diocese of Siscia
  Diocese of Poetovio
  Diocese of Sabaria
Metropolis of Sardica
  Diocese of Scodra

Christianity arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1st century AD. Saint Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans that he had brought the Gospel of Christ to Illyria. Saint Jerome, a Doctor of the Church born in Stridon (modern-day Šuica, Bosnia and Herzegovina), wrote that St. Paul preached in Illyria. It is therefore believed that Christianity arrived on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1st century, either through Paul's disciples or Paul himself. After the Edict of Milan, Christianity spread rapidly, and the Christians and bishops from the area of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina gathered around two metropolitan seats, Salona and Sirmium. Several early Christian dioceses developed in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries. At the Church synod in Salona in 530 and 533, Andrija, Bishop of Bistue (episcopus Bestoensis), was mentioned. Bishop Andrija likely had a seat in the Roman municipium Bistue Nova near Zenica. The synod in Salona decided to create a new diocese, the Diocese of Bistue Vetus, separating it from the Diocese of Bistue Nova. Several dioceses then developed in the south: the Diocese of Martari (today Konjic), Diocese of Sarsenterum, Diocese of Delminium, Diocese of Baloie and Diocese of Lausinium.[1]

Medieval era[edit]

Catholic Dioceses in Bosnia and Dalmatia in the 15th century

After the arrival of the Croats on the Adriatic coast in the early 7th century, Frankish and Byzantine rulers started baptizing Croats inhabiting the area of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina up to the Drina River. Christianization was also influenced by the proximity of the old Roman cities in Dalmatia. Christianity spread from the Dalmatian coast towards the interior of the Duchy of Croatia. This area was under the administration of the archbishops of Split, successors of Salona's archbishops, who attempted to restore the ancient Duvno Diocese. Northern Bosnia was under the administration of the Pannonian-Moravian archbishopric established in 869 by Saint Methodius of Thessaloniki, Apostle to the Slavs.[2]

In the 11th century the Diocese of Bosnia was established. Based on a collection of historical documents entitled Provinciale Vetus published in 1188, it is first mentioned as subordinated to the Archdiocese of Split, and a second time as under the Archdiocese of Ragusa. It is assumed the diocese came into existence between 1060 and 1075.[3] Prior to the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croat Catholics made up the majority of the Bosnian population.

Ottoman era[edit]

Saint Anthony's Church was converted into a mosque (Fethija) following the Ottoman conquest of Bihać in the late 16th century.

During the 15th and 16th century, the area of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina, then split between the Kingdom of Croatia and the Kingdom of Bosnia, fell under the Ottoman Islamic government. Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were given "protected person" or "people of the dhimma" status, which guaranteed them the right to keep their possessions and work in agriculture, crafts, and trade, under the condition of remaining loyal subjects to the Ottoman government. In public life, Christians were not allowed to protest Islam, nor were they allowed to build any new churches or establish new church institutions. Public and civil services were performed only by Muslims.[4]

St. Michael's Church in Vareš in Central Bosnia is the oldest church in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was rebuilt in 1819 on the foundations of the medieval church.[5]

The general attitude of the Islamic government toward Christians was further defined by other provisions for the Christian communities within the Ottoman state. Due to political circumstances, the Eastern Orthodox Church enjoyed a better position within the Empire compared to other churches. Since the pope, the head of the Catholic Church, was also a political opponent of the Empire, Catholics were in a subordinate position in relation to the Orthodox. Unlike the Orthodox metropolitans and bishops, Catholic bishops were not recognized as high ecclesiastical dignitaries. Therefore, the Ottoman government officially recognized only certain Catholic communities, especially those in larger cities with a strong Catholic commercial citizenry. The authorities issued them ahidnâmes, documents guaranteeing them the right of identity, freedom of movement for priests, performing religious rituals, the inviolability of property, and the exemption of taxes for those members who lived on charity. Mehmed the Conqueror issued two such documents to the Bosnian Franciscans. The first was issued after the conquest of Srebrenica in 1462, and the other during the main military campaign in the Kingdom of Bosnia in 1463. It was released in the Ottoman military camp in Milodraž situated on an important road connecting the towns of Visoko and Fojnica, leading it to be called the Ahdname of Milodraž or Ahdname of Fojnica. The terms of this guarantee, however, were often not implemented, with Orthodox clergy attempting to move part of their tax obligations to Catholics, leading to disputes between the Orthodox clergy and Franciscans being brought before the Ottoman courts.[4]

There are no direct and reliable sources on the number of Catholics in Bosnia during Ottoman rule. Based on travelogues, it is believed that in the first half of the 16th century the Catholic population still constituted a majority. Serbs who came from the east were also cited with them, while Turkish soldiers and officers mostly made up the Islamicized portion of the population. The Apostolic visitor Peter Masarechi reported in 1624 that Catholics made up about a quarter of the population, while Muslims formed the majority. During this century, Catholics would drop to third place in terms of their numbers among the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and remain so into the present day.[4]

Restoration of regular ecclesiastical hierarchy[edit]

After Bosnia Vilayet came under Austro-Hungarian rule in 1878, pope Leo XIII decided to restore regular ecclesiastical hierarchy in it. In the Apostolic Letter Ex hac augusta from 5 July 1881, the Pope established a separate ecclesiastical province, consisting of 4 dioceses, in the political borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina and repealing previous apostolic vicariates. The city of Sarajevo, which is named the ancient name of Vrhbosna, became the archdiocesan and metropolitan seat. Its suffragan dioceses became the newly established dioceses in Banja Luka and Mostar and existing Trebinje-Mrkan Diocese. Since it is within the boundaries of the Mostar Diocese, Duvno (Delminium), ancient diocese, was located, the bishop of Mostar received the title of the bishop of Mostar-Duvno to maintain the memory of that diocese.[6]

In Vrhbosna, Cathedral chapter was immediately established while in other dioceses additional time was given for its establishment.[7]

Josip Juraj Strossmayer, bishop of Bosnia or Ðakovo and Srijem in his letter to Serafino Vannutelli, nuncio to Vienna, from March 1881, considered that the establishment of new dioceses is required, but he was not for the establishment of a metropolitan seat in Bosnia because it does not achieve the necessary bonding and connection to the Church in Croatia.[2]

Austro-Hungarian rule[edit]

In negotiations between the Holy See and Austro-Hungary, the Emperor of Austria had the decisive word in the appointment of bishops. Diocesan clergy had now been introduced along with Franciscans, who during the Ottoman era were some of the only clergy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Josip Stadler, professor of theology at University of Zagreb, was appointed as Archbishop of Vrhbosna while the dioceses of Mostar and Banja Luka were entrusted to the Franciscans Paškal Buconjić and Marijan Marković. Archbishop Stadler and diocesan priests attempted to suppress the Franciscans from parishes, so the Archbishop requested from the Holy See the permanent removal of the Franciscans from all parishes. Following the decision of the Holy See from 1883, Franciscans had to submit part of their parish to the Archbishop at the free disposal. By the end of the century, they handed over about a third of their parishes to local bishops. The Archbishop still sought to take several parishes, which created frequent tension within the local Church.[4]

The number of Catholics during the Austro-Hungarian administration has increased by approximately 230,000. Firstly, it was the immigration from different parts of the Monarchy. The overall number of immigrants was about 135,000, of which 95,000 were the Catholics. The nationality of a third of immigrant Catholics was Croatian, while 60,000 of them were Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, Germans and Slovenians.[4]

  •   Orthodox Christians
  •   Sunni Muslims
  •   Catholics

Interwar period[edit]

Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (from 1929 Kingdom of Yugoslavia) was formed on 1 December 1918, by the merger of the provisional State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (itself formed from territories of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire) with the formerly independent Kingdom of Serbia.

Although the opinions of Catholic Church circles in Bosnia and Herzegovina about the union with Serbia was divided, after the unification, Catholic bishops, including Stadler, encouraged both priests and faithful toward loyalty towards the new government. They considered that in the new State, Croats can realize their national rights and that the Catholic Church will have rights and freedom of action. However, when it eventually became obvious that this would not be true, relations between Church and State became colder and the clergy offered more resistance to the Government.[8]

Seven days after unification archbishop Stadler died. Ivan Šarić was supposed to be appointed his successor immediately after his death, but the Royal government in Belgrade and the Franciscans in Bosnia were against him because they considered him Stadlers continuator. After three years, on 2 May 1922, Šarić was appointed Archbishop of Vrhbosna.[8]

During the communist Yugoslavia[edit]

A table in tribute of murdered franciscans in Herzegovina

The ideological conflict between Christianity and Marxist philosophy in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Second World War and the era of the communist Yugoslavia became organized confrontation between the communist movement and the State and the Catholic Church. Under the direction of the Yugoslav Communist Party,184 churchmen were killed during and after the War, including 136 priests, 39 seminarians, and four religious brothers, while five priests died in communist prisons. In these events, the most affected were the Franciscan provinces of Herzegovina and Bosna Srebrena whose 121 friars were killed. [9]

One of the largest calamities for the Catholic priests occurred during partisan conquest of Mostar and Široki Brijeg in February 1945. On that occasion the Partisans killed 30 friars from the convent in Široki Brijeg, among them 12 professors and the principal of a Franciscan grammar school.[10]

The persecution of priests, the faithful and the Church was particularly organized after the War. Many books were printed, and their goal was to link the Catholic Church with the fascist Ustaše regime and the Western powers. In this way, the Communist Party has sought to justify the crimes and persecution of the Church. Therefore, the Party ignored the fact that 75 Catholic priests collaborated with the partisans and were direct participants in their resistance movement.[11]

Faced with terror and open hostility of the Yugoslav communist authorities after completion of the Second World War, the Catholic bishops from the session in Zagreb sent out Pastoral Letter of the Catholic bishops of Yugoslavia on 20 September 1945 protesting against injustice, crime, trials to death and executions of people. They protected the sentenced, but innocent priests and faithful, noting that they did not want to defend the culprits. They admitted that culprits do exist, but that their number is negligible.

"We accept that there were some priests, who - seduced by the national party passion - violated the sacred law of Christian justice and love, and who therefore deserve to be tried in the court of terrestrial justice. We must however point out that the number of such priest is more than negligible, and that the serious allegations which have been presented in the press and in the meetings against a large part of the Catholic clergy in Yugoslavia, have to be included within tendentious attempts to deceive the public aware of the lies, and take away the reputation of the Catholic Church ..."

—Pastoral Letter [9]

The earthquake that struck the Banja Luka area in October 1969 significantly damaged Banja Luka Cathedral, which then had to be demolished. During 1972 and 1973, the present modern tent-shaped cathedral was built on its former site.[12]

In the Bosnian War[edit]

In August 1991, when the war in Croatia had already started and was beginning in Bosnia and Herzegovina, archbishop Puljić and bishops Komarica and Žanić sent an appeal to the authorities, religious communities and the international community to preserve Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state and prevent war. Yet, among bishops there were different considerations as to how the internal organization of Bosnia and Herzegovina should look. Žanić believed that every nation should have its separate unit within the country, hoping that in this way they could secure a compact and homogeneous territory that would preserve constitutive rights of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while archbishop Puljić and the leadership of the Franciscan Province of Bosnia Srebrena insisted on a single state without such divisions. In 1994, bishops demanded that the rights of all peoples must be ensured in all areas of the country. They opposed dividing Bosnia and Herzegovina into several states because Catholic religious, sacral and cultural objects would remain largely outside the area that would be granted to Croats. They were also afraid this could destroy the established borders of dioceses, which would consequently lead to the dissection of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Different political circumstances in Bosnia and Herzegovina resulted in several different political standpoints that these ecclesiastical representatives began to support, especially regarding the ultimate position of Croats in the future organization of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[13]

Following the 1992-95 war, some fled to Croatia, and the local Bishop was said to have struggled to have them return to their homeland because of the persistent difficulties there.[14]

Modern history[edit]

Pope John Paul II's visit to Banja Luka and Bosnia-Herzegovina of 23 June 2003 helped to draw the attention of Catholics worldwide to the need to reconstruct the Church in the country.[15] The destruction of churches and chapels was one of the most visible wounds of the 1992-95 war. In the Diocese of Banja Luka alone, which the Pope visited on Sunday, 39 churches were destroyed and 22 suffered considerable damage. Nine chapels were destroyed and 14 were damaged; two convents were devastated and one severely damaged, as were 33 cemeteries.[15]

In 2009, the remains of friar Maksimilijan Jurčić, killed by Partisans on 28 January 1945, were discovered and subsequently buried in Široki Brijeg.[16][17] Among those in attendance at the funeral was Ljubo Jurčić, the friar's nephew, and the Croatian consul-general in Mostar, Velimir Pleša.[18] The cause of the martyrdom of the Herzegovinian Franciscans is led by the Vicepostulation Fra Leo Petrović and 65 Comrades.[19]


Roman Catholic dioceses in Bosnia and Herzegovina:
  Archdiocese of Vrhbosna
  Diocese of Banja Luka
  Diocese of Mostar-Duvno
  Diocese of Trebinje-Mrkan
  Diocese of Gospić-Sinj (Zavalje parish)

The Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina has one province: Sarajevo. There are one archdiocese and 3 dioceses which are divided into archdeaconries, deaneries and parishes.

Province Diocese Approximate Territory Cathedral Creation
Archdiocese of Vrhbosna
Archidioecesis Vrhbosnensis o Seraiensis
Central Bosnia, Semberija, Posavina, Podrinje Sacred Heart Cathedral 11th century (originally as Diocese of Bosnia, elevated to Archdiocese 1881)
Diocese of Banja Luka
Dioecesis Banialucensis
Bosanska Krajina, Tropolje, Donji Krajevi, Pounje Cathedral of Saint Bonaventure 5 July 1881
Diocese of Mostar-Duvno
Dioecesis Mandentriensis-Dulminiensis
Herzegovina, Gornje Podrinje Cathedral of Mary, Mother of the Church 6th century (originally as Diocese of Duvno)
Diocese of Trebinje-Mrkan
Dioecesis Tribuniensis-Marcanensis
South and East Herzegovina Cathedral of the Birth of Mary 984
- Military Ordinariate of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ordinariatus Militaris in Bosnia et Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1 February 2011

Zavalje parish of the Diocese of Gospić-Senj is on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

There are two Franciscan provinces in the country, the Franciscan Province of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary based in Mostar and the Franciscan Province of Bosna Srebrena based in Sarajevo.

Shrines in Bosnia and Herzegovina[edit]

Shrine of the Queen of Peace in Međugorje[edit]

Sanctuary in Međugorje

Međugorje, a village located in Herzegovina and parish in Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, has been the site of alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary since 24 June 1981. From the beginning, it became an important place of pilgrimage for millions of people and thousands of prayer groups. The phenomenon is not officially approved by the Catholic Church.[20][21] The Holy See announced in March 2010 that it had established a Commission under the auspices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to evaluate the apparitions, headed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini.[22]

Shrine of Our Lady of Olovo[edit]

Church of Our Lady in Olovo

Church of the Assumption is a Catholic church in Olovo, better known as a Marian pilgrimage site. The Olovo Shrine of Our Lady is among the most important pilgrimage sites in Southeast Europe. According to a record that dates back to 1679, the Our Lady in Olovo pilgrimage was made by Catholics and gentiles from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Croatia. Today, the shrine in Olovo is remains a popular place of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage mainly happens on the Feast of the Assumption, in the middle of August, but also in other circumstances. There are two paintings of Our Lady in the Olovo shrine. One is from the 18th century labelled S. Maria Plumbensis, which until 1920 was with the Franciscans in Ilok, and later in Petrićevac and in Sarajevo, and in 1964 it was transferred to Olovo. The second painting was done in 1954 by Gabriel Jurkić, using the description of the former Olovo Lady painting, which had disappeared.

Shrine of Saint John the Baptist of Podmilačje[edit]

Church of Saint John the Baptist (2007)

The Shrine of St. John the Baptist in Podmilačje is one of the oldest shrines in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Church of St. John is in the village of Podmilačje, which is 10 kilometers away from Jajce, under massive stones that were the presumed location of a medieval tower, from which the soldiers of Hrvoje Vukčić guarded and defended the entrance to the city. The first mention of Podmilačje is in a document of King Stjepan Tomašević dating from 1461. At that time, the church of St. John had already existed. On the basis of the stylistic features of the portal, it can be concluded that the construction of the church dates back to the mid-fifteenth century. During the Ottoman period the church was not damaged or destroyed. This is the only medieval church in Bosnia that continually served its purpose. According to legend, the church of St. John “moved” during the night from the village of Pšenik, on the left bank of the river Vrbas, to the village of Podmilačje, on the right bank of the river, because the Turks had been keeping goats in it. Legend also has it that one pillar still stands in the river Vrbas, and can be seen when the water level is low. The area of the church of St. John in Podmilačje represents an important place of pilgrimage for Catholics. Once a year, on the eve of St. John’s feast which is on June 24, a multitude of people come to this place. The pilgrims believe in the healing properties of Saint John, especially for chronic and mental diseases.

Shrine of Saint Leopold Mandić in Maglaj[edit]

Church of Saint Leopold in Maglaj

Maglaj is a town in central Bosnia located in the Bosna river valley near Doboj. The town was first mentioned on the 16 September 1408, in the Charter (sub castro nostro Maglay) of the Hungarian King Sigismund. The Parish Maglaj was officially restored in 1970, and in the same year a rectory was built. In autumn of 1976, an already dilapidated old church of St. Anthony built in 1919 was demolished. The construction of a new church and shrine of St. Leopold Mandić began in the spring of 1977, and its bases were blessed on the 15th of May in the same year. On 17 June 1979, the shrine of St. Leopold Bogdan Mandić in Maglaj was ceremoniously opened.

Apostolic Nunciature[edit]

Meeting of the apostolic nuncio Luigi Pezzuto and Chairmen of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Nebojša Radmanović

The Apostolic Nunciature to Bosnia and Herzegovina is an ecclesiastical office of the Roman Catholic Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The office of the nunciature has been located in Sarajevo since 1993. The first Apostolic Auncio to Bosnia and Herzegovina was Francesco Monterisi who was in office from June 1993 until March 1998. The current Apostolic Nuncio is His Most Reverend Excellency Luigi Pezzuto, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI on 17 November 2012.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia:Bosnia and Herzegovina
  2. ^ a b Šanjek, Franjo (1996). Kršćanstvo na hrvatskom prostoru [Christianity in the Croatian regions] (in Croatian). Zagreb: Kršaćnska sadašnjost. 
  3. ^ OŠJ 1975, p. 134.
  4. ^ a b c d e Vasilj, Snježana; Džaja, Srećko; Karamatić, Marko; Vukšić, Tomo (1997). Katoličanstvo u Bosni i Hercegovini [Catholicism in Bosnia and Herzegovina] (in Croatian). Sarajevo: HKD Napredak. 
  5. ^ "Stara crkva". Vareš Parish. Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  6. ^ Leo XIII, Ex hac augusta
  7. ^ Leo XIII, Ex hac augusta
  8. ^ a b Goluža, Božo (1995). Katolička Crkva u Bosni i Hercegovini 1918.-1941. Mostar: Teološki institut Mostar. 
  9. ^ a b Lučić, Ivan (20 November 2011). "Progon Katoličke Crkve u Bosni i Hercegovini u vrijeme komunističke vlasti (1945–1990)". Croatica Christiana Periodica. 36: 105–144. Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  10. ^ Pandžić, Bazilije (2001). Hercegovački franjevci sedam stoljeća s narodom [Herzegovinian franciscans seven centuries with people] (in Croatian). Mostar-Zagreb: Ziral. 
  11. ^ Petešić, Ćiril (1982). Katoličko svećenstvo u NOB-u 1941–1945 [Catholic clergy in National liberation movement] (in Croatian). Zagreb: VPA. 
  12. ^ "Župa Banja Luka". Diocese of Banja Luka. Retrieved 6 May 2016. 
  13. ^ Krišto, Jure (June 2015). "Katolička Crkva u Bosni i Hercegovini (1991–1995)". Croatica Christiana Periodica. 39: 197–227. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  14. ^ ZENIT
  15. ^ a b Pope's Trip Helped Highlight the Plight
  16. ^ Široki Brijeg: Pokopani posmrtni ostaci fra Maksimilijana Jurčića
  17. ^ Misa za 66 ubijenih hercegovačkih franjevaca, Catholic Press Agency Zagreb
  19. ^ Vicepostulatura postupka mučeništva »Fra Leo Petrović i 65 subraće«
  20. ^ "Vatican Probes Claims of Apparitions at Medugorje". Reuters. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  21. ^ Pope finally launches crackdown on world's largest illicit Catholic shrine and suspends 'dubious' priest. (Sep 3, 2008). Caldwell, Simon. Mail Online. Retrieved Feb 28, 2010.
  22. ^ "Holy See confirms creation of Medjugorje Commission". Catholic News Agency (ACI Prensa). March 17, 2010. 
  23. ^ "Apostolic Nunciature Bosnia and Herzegovina". GCatholic. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 

External links[edit]