"Beware of the false peace!"
This weekend we celebrate for the final time this century the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on succeeding days. At no time in history have the significance of these feasts taken on more of an importance than this final year before the Jubilee 2000, for according to all the signs the Two Hearts have imparted, we are very, very close to the Triumph of Mary's Immaculate Heart as promised at Fatima towards the beginning of the this turbulent century. Her Triumph will usher in the glorious Reign of her Divine Son's Sacred Heart a glorious time also referred to as the Second Pentecost, the New Advent, the Era of the Eucharistic Presence or the Golden Age of Peace. Ah, peace, that elusive word and utopian state we all long for! Speaking of peace, as much as we would love to believe the peace agreement reached late Wednesday and early Thursday morning between the Serbs and representatives of NATO can be a lasting one, the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary to numerous visionaries and messengers echo in our hearts and ears to beware of the "false peace." We have been warned of this since 1991 when America made quick work of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Uh, oh you say, Saddam is still around? And that ethnic cleansing continues in Iraq especially with the Kurds? And that the Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid has confirmed that the bombing is continuing eight years after Saddam was supposedly defeated? Is that proof enough of what Our Lady foretold? So who truly believes peace will be lasting in the Balkans? Don't every one raise their hands at once. You see, both sides signed the agreement because all sides saw it expedient to, not for humanitarian reasons but rather for political ones. That is another reason it qualifies as a "false peace."
It would seem presumptious to think that an amoral politician from Arkansas could solve something that has gone on for centuries. That is why we have been highly critical of NATO's bombing raids during the nearly 80 days over the Balkans for these victims of the bombing are also our brothers and sisters and NATO and its principals have not learned from history. It makes no sense to spend millions bombing someone and then spending millions more to rebuild something we destroyed. While buildings can be rebuilt, memories and feelings run deep - not only as in centuries, but, in the case of the Balkans, for millenniums! America, still wet behind the ears history-wise, doesn't understand that. Therefore, we are dedicating a series of editorials to the history behind the conflict in the Balkans which helps explain the problems and the fact that they not only cannot be solved overnight but will always carry with them great tension.
Consider that this "war" between Serbs and others has been going on for over two millenniums. Therefore for nearly 2000 years the people of the Balkans had to be suspect that the Apocalypse was close (cf. Matthew 24:6; Mark 13: 7). There is evidence today of artifacts from the Illyrian tribes of Ardijejan, Autarijati and Daorsan. There are even traces of Celtic tribes who migrated to this region near 400 BC. Remember Macedonia was very influential during the glory days of Greece. With the fall of the Greeks, this rugged, rocky area became part of the Roman Empire as a result of the Roman conquests of the Illyrians in 229 B.C. where it remained in Roman hands during the time of Christ. There are reports that Saint Paul passed through the Balkans during his journeys but they are not substantiated. When the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, the land became part of Macedonia, inhabited by Slavs and eventually incorporated into the vast Byzantine Empire. The split of Rome and Constantinople was echoed in the split of the Slavic people with the Serbs and Bulgarians being influenced toward the Greek Orthodox faith through the efforts of Saints Cyril and Methodius in 864. The Croats and Czechs were won over by the strong Roman Catholic influence of the Franks who had converted to Christianity in 767 under King Pepin. The Croatian influence and faith has lasted for fifteen centuries, aided greatly by the heroic missionary efforts of the Dominican and Franciscans who had traveled with the Crusades, preaching to the Croats during their land journeys, with many of the Friars staying and establishing missions. This was the case in the fourteenth century when the Friars established themselves throughout Croatia and other regions of the Balkans known as Dalmatia. Though other missionaries tried to convert the mountain lands, it was the simplicity of the Franciscans, mirroring the ideals of their founder from Assisi, that endeared the friars to the people who continue to be vehemently loyal to this day, causing problems with Diocesan bishops where resentments between orders and secular priests have caused dissension. One reason is because the Diocesan priests and prelates bailed out when the going got tough whereas the men of Saint Francis instilled in the people a strong spirituality and resolve, a special courage under fire. The Franciscans were revered because they related to the people from the beginning. They came in poverty, wearing only their robes, and like Francis, carried only sacks of bibles and bread to share. They never asked for anything more. The people could see their sincerity and thus was established a holy love affair between the people and the Franciscans that lasts to this day and age, explaining the present problems the Bishop of Mostar Franjo Peric is having with the Franciscans in Bosnia and the controversy surrounding Medjugorje where it is the people who are resisting, not the Franciscan priests there.
Just when the Franciscans had settled the area, the terrible bubonic plague of the mid-14th century - the Black Death which ravaged all of Europe. The scourge of the Bubonic Plague weakend the Austrian Hapsburg hold, allowing the Turks to invade. This opened the door for the Muslim influence that remains strong today. In 1389, Bosnia and Serbia were incorporated into part of the Ottoman Empire and the people became captives as a result of the conquests of the Ottoman ruler Sultan Yildirim Bayezid, who was known and feared as the "Thunderbolt." After the conquest of the Turkish Sultan Fatih Mehmed, known as the "Conqueror" in 1463 the Serbian kingdom disapeared, followed by the absorbtion of much of Bosnia and parts of Albania and Croatia. The area in southern Bosnia was divided, becoming Herzego or Herzegovina. The Turkish influence brouht the Muslims into Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbs from Bulgaria, Russia and Greece as well as Albania infiltrated the lands and there was much crossbreeding through the centuries. In virtually every century Serbs, Croats and Muslims have been at odds over something as the the three major forces of the faith - the Western Church, the Eastern Church, and the followers of Mohammed sought to live in harmony. We can see from history how the ethnic struggles simmered until exploding into full-blown war 500 years later. In Tuesday's editorial we will continue with this "history lesson" as we attempt to clarify the causes and effects of the deep-seated strife and echo Our Lady's words to "Beware of the false peace!"