A Catholic Hospital for Sarajevo?

SARAJEVO—The Catholic Medical Foundation, headquartered in Easton, Pennsylvania, would figure high on anybody's short list of relief operations that made a real difference during the conflict in the Balkans.

Spearheaded by radiologist Christopher Chapman and his wife Judy, and chaired by Bishop Thomas Welsh of Allentown, Pa., the four-year-old association of American, Croatian, and Bosnian medical personnel has delivered nearly $50 million in pharmaceutical and other medical equipment directly to supply-strapped war hospitals and refugee camps in Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. This year alone the organization delivered more than $7 million in equipment to aid in the rebuilding of the region's damaged medical infrastructure.

Far from taking the merely “institutional” approach to the relief effort, the Chapmans hand-delivered their donated medical supplies to needy hospitals, clinics, and individual patients over the course of more than 45 trips to the war zone since 1992. With the help of a dedicated team of local doctors and Catholic Church officials, CMF continues to outfit dialysis clinics in the region, provide psychiatric medicines to clinics in western and central Bosnia, provide help for war orphans and refugees, and supply equipment and medical expertise for pediatric rehabilitation programs in several Balkan countries.

The organization was also instrumental in saving the lives of a number of Bosnian children during the war by flying them to the U.S. for life-saving medical treatment.

Now that the war is over, CMF has shifted its focus to the longer-range concerns of the people of BosniaHerzegovina. Chief among these is the campaign recently launched by Cardinal Vinko Puljic to open a Catholic hospital, St. Vincent's, in Sarajevo.

In part, the drive to reopen St. Vincent's, a hospital closed by communist authorities more than 50 years ago, is a matter of the restoration of Catholic institutions, such as schools and hospitals, so that the Church can perform her social mission.

But there is much more to it than that. With the increasing Islamicization of society in postwar Bosnia, Catholics in the region feel under increasing threat. A Catholic hospital ensures that Catholic doctors and nurses can find work in the region, and that patients of all ethnic and religious groups can get quality care in a climate of dignity and respect for life.

As Sarajevo's Cardinal Puljic stresses, the possibility of a genuinely multi-cultural Bosnia is guaranteed only if the region's non-Muslim populations remain. St. Vincent's is one small but significant step in creating the necessary infrastructure for a vibrant Catholic witness in postwar Bosnia.

While the Bosnian government has released the property in downtown Sarajevo to the Church, much remains to be done before the facility can open its doors. Cardinal Puljic has asked the assistance of Catholic Medical Foundation in helping to make St. Vincent's a reality.

For further information, contact: Catholic Medical Foundation, 3555 Santee Mill Road, Bethlehem, PA, 18017; tel.: 610-865-5437; fax: 610-865-6324

—Gabriel Meyer