Pope Francis said Sunday he will make a one-day trip in June to Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, his latest visit to a country where Islam is the dominant religion amid growing persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
Francis told pilgrims after the weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square that he would visit Sarajevo June 6 to pray for peace and inter-religious dialogue in the Muslim-majority city that became a bloody symbol of the Balkans wars of the 1990s.
His trip will be the first papal trip to Sarajevo in 18 years. Francis called on the faithful to pray that his visit would be a boost for the Catholic population, and "give rise to the development of good and contribute to the consolidation of brotherhood and peace."
Pope John Paul II visited Sarajevo in April 1997, just two years after the end of the war that claimed 100,000 lives. John Paul ignored apparent assassination threats to visit the city, urging greater dialog between Bosniak Muslims, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs.
Bosnia still struggles for the unity needed to address high unemployment, corruption and deep political polarization. These ills prompted violent anti-government riots across the country in February last year.
The pope's Bosnia-Herzegovina trip follows visits to Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Albania and Turkey last year, where he sought to foster cooperation with moderate Islam to protect Christians facing increasing persecution in the Middle East, especially in Iraq.
The 44-month siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb and Yugoslav army forces was one of the darkest hours of the 1992-95 war and left about 12,000 people dead.
The pontiff's visit in June will come just weeks ahead of the 20th anniversary of the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica by Serb forces, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.
Material for this report came from Reuters, AFP and AP.