Some 20,000 people gathered in Sarajevo Saturday to attend a ceremony for the beatification of five Catholic nuns killed here for their faith in 1941.
"The Holy Father, satisfying the demand of the Archbishop (of Sarajevo), Cardinal Vinko Puljic ... permitted that the five martyrs of the Drina ... can henceforth be called blessed," said Cardinal Angelo Amato, who oversees the process of canonisation, which leads to sainthood, for the Vatican.
Three cardinals and several dozen archbishops and bishops, mostly from Bosnia and neighbouring staunchly catholic Croatia attended the mass, which also attracted some 20,000 faithful from all over the Balkans.
"This is a big event for our church. It is a very special pilgrimage for me," said Jelka Petric, 61, who travelled from the southern Croatian coastal town of Zadar to attend the ceremony, held in a big sports hall.
The nuns' martyrdom was confirmed in January by Pope Benedict XVI. The beatification ceremony is the third of the four steps in the canonisation process which leads to sainthood.
The five women, Jula Ivanisevic, Berchmana Leidenix, Krizina Bojanc, Antonija Fabjan and Bernadeta Banja, aged between 29 and 76, were killed in December 1941 by Yugoslav royalist forces known as Chetniks.
The nuns, two Slovene nationals, a Croat, an Austrian and a Hungarian, were members of the "Daughters of Divine Charity" founded in Vienna in 1868 by Franziska Lechner. The order ran schools and shelters for the poor.
"By their origin and their mission they showed the openness of a Christian heart which does not recognise human boundaries," Puljic said.
The nuns were snatched from their convent in Pale, close to Sarajevo on 10 December 1941 by Chetnik forces and taken to an army base near the eastern town of Gorazde.
The eldest was killed on Christmas Eve. The others were held in a room and raped by soldiers before being murdered. A gravedigger threw their bodies into the Drina river, which is why they are known as the martyrs of the Drina.
At the time Bosnia was part of the pro-Nazi Croatian independent NDH state. The mostly Serb Chetniks accused the Croatian Catholic church of collaborating with the fascist regime in Zagreb. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and Croatian anti-fascists were killed in NDH concentration camps.
Currently Catholics make up 10 percent of Bosnia's estimated 3.8 million inhabitants. The largest religion is Islam with 40 percent, followed by Orthodox Christians, 31 percent.