LODI, N.J. -- Felician College recently was visited by Dr. Franjo Komarica, Catholic Bishop of Bosnia, who spoke to a large crowd of faculty, staff and students, of his experiences working for peace in Europe during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.
“You are fortunate to be in the United States where there is a respect for truth, respect for justice,” Bishop Komarica told the audience through a translator, his nephew Drazen. “There are freedoms here that many take for granted, but there is a responsibility, too, to bring hope to big nations and to small peoples who have been forgotten.”
The Yugoslav wars were characterized by the ethnic conflicts among the peoples of what was then known as Yugoslavia and Bosnia, and by the infamous war crimes committed including mass murder and genocide.
Bishop Komarica related personal accounts of the conflicts – “a terrible evil” – and his kidnapping in 1996 at the hands of military officers.
“After praying, I found my fear had left me. I asked the soldiers, who had guns pointed at me, ‘Can I look at you before you shoot me?’” the Bishop recalled. “I think I confused them because they could see I was no longer afraid. They released me, telling me, ‘You get a pass for today.’”
He recalled other horrific events, having witnessed the atrocities of war. He said he was grateful for American intervention in stopping the wars through the Dayton-Paris Agreement.
“Until that time, it was like friends and neighbors became enemies overnight. There was no trust, people were afraid for themselves and for their families,” Bishop Komarica said. “Everyday people were being liquidated. How does this happen? We’re still struggling to understand.”
Bishop Komarica’s work with government leaders and with the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina, formerly Yugoslavia, to restore peace and provide a safe haven for those who fled during the wars, earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace prize in 2003. He is a recipient of the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award granted to individuals or groups in Europe who, through political, artistic, philosophical or practical work, have opposed breaches of human rights, including the deliberate destruction of religious, ethnic or racial groups.