Cardinal Vinko Puljić, Archbishop emeritus of Vrhbosna, Sarajevo (Bosnia-Ercegovina), was born on 8 September 1945 in Prijećani, in the Diocese of Banja Luka. He completed his secondary education at the interdiocesan minor seminary of Zagreb and the minor seminary of Djakovo. He studied philosophy and theology at the major seminary of Djakovo and was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Djakovo on 29 June 1970. Pope John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Vrhbosna, Sarajevo on 19 November 1990 and in 1991 at the tomb of St Peter ordained him Bishop on the Solemnity of the Epiphany.
His family was materially poor but rich in the Catholic faith. He was the 12th of 13 children. When he was barely three years old, his mother Kaja, died. His father remarried and the little Vinko with his other brothers and sisters found a new mother in his step-mother Ana, who brought him up as if he were her own son.
Already as a child he displayed the great piety which he had inherited from his family when every evening they knelt to pray the Holy Rosary. His father Ivan, led the prayers. Later, as spiritual director at the minor seminary ‘Vicko Zmajević’ of Zara (Croatia) whenever he saw a boy having difficulty praying with his arms extended, Fr Vinko would frequently remember the words of his father who used to say to him: 'Son, remember, Jesus hung on the cross with his arms extended, while you cannot even manage to pray for a couple of minutes extending yours!' One of the characteristics of young Vinko's piety was a special devotion to the Mother of God, which he has always retained.
In addition to his family, young Vinko's spiritual formation was deeply influenced by the Trappist Monastery of Marija Zvijezda, located not far from his native village. It was one of the monks precisely, who helped Vinko's father to send his son to the minor seminary of Zagreb. Actually, Fr Ante Artner sold his motorbike and gave the proceeds to Vinko's father who did not have enough money to pay his board there. This story was only told by Father Ante on the occasion when the new priest Vinko celebrated his first Mass in 1970.
After his ordination to the priesthood, he became chaplain in Banja Luka, until spring 1973. Before moving to the parish of Sasina, where he stayed from June to November 1973, for three months, from April to June, he worked in the Episcopal Curia of Banja Luka. From 1973 to 1978 he was parish priest of Ravska, near the mine of Ljubija. In autumn 1978, he was named spiritual director of the minor seminary ‘Vicko Zmajević’ of Zara.
As soon as he arrived at the seminary, he immediately made it into a large family. The seminarians were like younger brothers to him, while for them, he was a real father and elder brother whom they could trust. During the summer holidays, he did not lose touch with his seminarians, but visited them in their villages, and corresponded with them. He was concerned above all that his boys should understand and better accept their priestly vocation. During one of his stays in Zadar, he was confessor at the Benedictine monastery and organized numerous spiritual retreats for priests, seminarians and women religious.
When his work as spiritual director of the minor seminary of Zadar came to an end in summer 1987, he returned to his Diocese and was named parish priest of Bosanska Gradiška. He stayed there until summer 1990 when he was transferred to Sarajevo as vice- rector of the major seminary of the ecclesiastical province of Vrhbosna. On 19 November 1990, while he was in Sarajevo the news of his appointment as Archbishop reached him. He thus became the sixth Archbishop of that See after the reconstruction of the ordinary ecclesiastical hierarchy in 1881 in present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina, after the Turkish occupation which had lasted more than four centuries.
His pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Vrhbosna, Sarajevo began on 19 January 1991. In those months in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as also in the rest of what used to be Yugoslavia and in other formerly communist countries, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there was a spell of freedom and democracy. As Archbishop, he immediately focused on making pastoral visits in the Diocese in order to become more familiar with the religious and social situation there.
During these visits he paid particular attention to the meetings with priests. But signs of the evil to come were soon evident. In August 1991 hostilities in Croatia began. In Bosnia-Herzegovina fighting broke out in November and in Ravno in the south of the country, and in April 1992 attacks on the towns, including Sarajevo began.
In the situation created by the war, he immediately became involved in helping the thousands of refugees and exiles, mobilizing all the forces of the Church and people of good will. He began in particular to launch heartfelt appeals for the respect of the inalienable rights of the human person without distinction of race or religious creed, for the right of each to live in his own home, for mutual respect, for unity in plurality. At times, there was opposition to such appeals.
In his tireless work of peace making, he met with many political figures and politicians, at home and abroad. In addition, to give a greater impulse to the commitment of religion for a just peace, he met more than once with the Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In this respect, it is enough to remember the interreligious meeting held from 1-3 October 1993 in Sarajevo with Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, President of the Pontifical Councils of Justice and Peace and 'Cor Unum'; with the Apostolic Nuncio in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Archbishop Francesco Monterisi; with the Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders of the city and of the country. And also, the meeting on 17 May 1994 at Sarajevo airport, with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexis II, Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and Cardinal Franjo Kuharić, Metropolitan Archbishop of Zagreb.
During the war, he frequently risked his life while making pastoral trips to his parishes, especially those affected by the scourge of war. In one of these visits he was imprisoned for twelve hours by the Serbian military in Ilida, near Sarajevo, running a serious risk when he rode in a UN military tank of UNPROFOR to Vareš, a town held by the Croatians but which precisely at that time was occupied by the Muslims.
Although he was in the way of those who did not agree with his attitude, he gained widespread esteem among the people and politicians, becoming a reference point at the most difficult moments and in the most acute crises. His radio and written messages have always been positively accepted by the people, both Catholic and Muslim and of other religions. As a witness to so many bitter tears, on behalf of the people suffering because of the war, he has often said: 'Do not leave us alone!', as he said in Milan on 23 September 1993 at an interreligious meeting. More than once he has clearly stated: 'I must raise my voice against all crimes'. Confirming the readiness of Catholics to live together with others, in his speech during his ad limina Apostolorum visit in January 1993, he told the Holy Father: As for us, we are seeking to make contact with the representatives of other religious communities: with the Serbian Orthodox Church and with the Islamic Community'.
On various occasions he has shown his ability to be a true Gospel peace-maker, sensitive to the people's suffering, open to dialogue and faithful to the principles of coexistence among the various social, religious and ethnic groups. On 12 November 1992, Pope John Paul II in his letter addressed to all the Bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina wrote to him: 'When I imposed hands on you on 6 January 1991 to consecrate you in the office of Pastor of the Church of Sarajevo, I had no idea that very shortly your cross would be so heavy and your cup so bitter'.
In April 1997, Cardinal Puljić welcomes John Paul II to Sarajevo; a pastoral visit the Holy Father had desired to make in September 1994 but was unable to due to the war.
Since March 2015 he has been President of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia-Ercegovina. He has already been President from from 1995 to 2002, and from 2005 to 2010.
He participated in the conclave of April 2005, which elected Pope Benedict XVI and in the conclave of March 2013, which elected Pope Francis.
From 29 January 2022 is Archbishop emeritus of Vrhbosna, Sarajevo (Bosnia-Ercegovina).
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by St. John Paul II in the consistory of 26 November 1994, of the Title of S. Chiara a Vigna Clara (St. Clare in Vigna Clara).