One hundred years ago, on June 28, two shots killed Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife.
It happened in Sarajevo and it marked the beginning of World War I, the Great War, the Terrible War, as it should be more correctly remembered.
More than 10 million died and an unjust peace was the premise of a second world war, marked by even more atrocities.
Recently in Sarajevo, peace associations and religious organizations from more than 60 countries gathered to share memories, reflections and make concrete peace proposals for the future.
Sarajevo was chosen also for its more recent war injuries that are still visible in the houses’ facades, partially still damaged, but mostly in the faces of the people that, in many cases, still express the trauma for the ethnic cleansing.
During the longest siege in human history—43 months long, from April 5, 1992, to Feb. 29, 1996—12,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the city.
History often keeps the account of poured blood, but for the peace movements that gathered in Sarajevo, history is also to be told from the viewpoint of the spared blood, starting from truce stories—more than you would expect—that trace back to the Great War.
Historically well attested, for example, is the ceasefire in Christmas 1914. It took place on the Western front between English and German soldiers.
It was a truce that soldiers spontaneously established, and some of them met personally on “no man’s land” and shared some gifts.
It seems that it started by the tune of “Silent Night,” coming from the English trench, which was recognized by the German soldiers.
Before, after and even during the terrible atrocities of the war, there were men and mostly women, who carried out a sort of life maintenance—trying to spare lives and recognizing the humanity found even in their enemies.
In present-day Sarajevo, an important task is accomplished by the Center of Research and Documentation, which published four volumes with personal data of 130,000 victims of former Yugoslavia.
There can be no future without the memory of the victims.
They also published another text of stories of people who acted for peace to spare lives, at cost to themselves, even during the conflict.
They gathered stories including one about three friends, who used to be neighbors before the war.
The men, two Serbians and one Bosnian, found themselves tragically divided by the ethnic cleansing.
Ratko Mladic, army chief of the Bosnian Serb army, ordered the two Serbs to kill their Bosnian friend. When they refused, he sentenced them to death immediately.
It was only at the end of the war that the Bosnian man discovered that his life was spared by his faithful Serbian friends.
There are many stories like this that contribute to build hope also today. It is, in fact, necessary to learn to live not only side by side, but also together, in unity and in peace.
We, peace people, are confronted with tremendous and powerful economic as well as military lobbies that work against world peace.
Nevertheless, we should not be discouraged but always remember Jesus’ words: “For the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me” (John 14:30).
The peace of Christ is different. It is a gift but also a call. It is the messianic shalom that will overcome because our destiny is interwoven to that of the risen one.