SARAJEVO, Sept 10 – Leaders of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Muslim and Jewish communities Sunday made a pressing call for peace from Bosnia which was the scene of the worst atrocities committed in Europe since World War II. Stressing the “commitment of Serb people to the strengthening of peace” Serb Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej said he wished that the future of peoples in the Balkans be “freed from the tragic and painful experiences of the past.”
“I wish sincerely that new generations grow up without a feeling of hatred and that they be protected from the horrible experience of conflicts,” Irinej said in an address to several thousand people at an annual gathering of the Rome-based Catholic lay community of Sant’Egidio in Sarajevo.
Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, which saw the country’s three main ethnic groups — Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslims — fight each other, left some 100,000 people dead. Relations between the three main communities remain deeply damaged 17 years on.
Muslims make up around 40 percent of Bosnia’s population of some 3.8 million. Serbs and Croats account for 31 and 10 percent of the population respectively.
“We have to carry in ourselves the seeds of peace and plant them wherever we are,” Irinej said earlier during a liturgy in the main Serb Orthodox church of Sarajevo. Sarajevo Archbishop Cardinal Vinko Puljic and several members of local Roman Catholic clergy also attended the service.
“In Bosnia, everyone prays according to one’s own laws. This city and this country deserve such a privilege,” Cardinal Puljic said.
Bosnia’s top Islamic cleric Mustafa Ceric stressed that “in Sarajevo there was never so much spiritual energy like today”, and remembered the victims of the Bosnian war, notably those during the Sarajevo siege in which some 11,000 people were killed.
“These victims call for our commitment to nourish peace and work on reconciliation, and they call for our sincere engagement in front of God and in front of humanity that we will do everything that no one nowhere in the world lives through such a tragedy,” Ceric said.
Founder of the Sant’Egidio community and current Italian Minister for International Cooperation and Integration Andrea Riccardi called on local communities to have compassion for victims from other sides.
“We should be fair, memories of the war are different, but the pain and suffering found in everyone are the same,” he said.
“The pain is carved into everyone’s heart and the pain of every mother is the same, regardless her ethnic or religious affiliation,” Riccardi said.
The Muslim member of Bosnia’s joint presidency Bakir Izetbegovic stressed that his country was a “crossroad of civilisation and the furthest Western point of both Orthodox religion and Islam as well as the furthest eastern point of Catholicism.”
“If such a Bosnia dies, the example of ‘living together’ will also die in the future,” he said.
During the three-day Sarajevo gathering which began on Sunday some 200 religious leaders and officials will attend about 30 conferences notably on poverty, immigration, religion in Asia and the Arab world, and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
The Sant’Egidio community, which was founded in the Franciscan tradition in Rome in 1968, has frequently acted as a neutral mediator in international conflicts.