FaithWorld

Catholic schools form rare oasis amid Bosnia’s ethnic strife

daria1I was caught by surprise recently when a Western diplomat told me that Serb students were in majority in the Catholic high school in Banja Luka,  a town that had become predominantly Serb after persecution of other ethnic groups during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Banja Luka is the largest town of the Serb Republic, which along with the Muslim-Croat federation makes up postwar Bosnia . (Photo: A Catholic school in Sarajevo, 25 Nov 2009/Danilo Krstanovic)

Then I learned that Bosnian Muslims account for 80 percent of students in the Catholic school in the western town of Bihac, where Muslims are in majority. It turned out that the situation is similar in all seven Catholic centres opened across Bosnia during and after the war. These schools paradoxically became rare multi-ethnic oases in the country where public schools are largely dominated by a majority ethnic group.

This got me wondering why the Catholic Church wanted to open school in Banja Luka, for example, the town in which only seven percent of 44,000 Croat Catholics that had lived  before the war remained to live today.  The result is a feature that just ran on our newswire. That tells the story, but let me tell you a bit more about the background.

“I am a Banja Luka native, my family had lived here for over 300 years and I regard myself obliged towards this town and towards Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Banja Luka Bishop Franjo Komarica, a driving force behind the opening of the Catholic school in the Serb-dominated town. “I don’t have the right to feel less worthy for being what I am – a Croat by ethnicity and a Catholic by religion,” said Komarica, who had stayed in Banja Luka throughout the war and fought for the return of Croats in the town.

komaricaOur goal is to bring people closer again, to bring back mutual respect and remove unnecessary barriers imposed onto us by politicians,” he said.

“Obama was elected by God” — Bosnian Grand Mufti Ceric

The Grand Mufti of Bosnia thinks the election of Barack Obama as American president is a gift from God that could help foster greater international tolerance of Muslims. “I believe that Obama is a divine sign to humanity,” Mustafa Ceric told me in an interview in Sarajevo. Americans “think that they have elected him, but I believe that he was elected by God.” (Photo: Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, 27 Jan 2009/ Danilo Krstanovic)

“Barack Obama is one of these most noble goods of our time and our civilisation, that is why I think he is a gift of God,” he said. “At the moment we feel a trend to change. Whether this change will be really in practice and life, we need time to see.”

Sometimes called one of the world’s most liberal grand muftis, Ceric is considered a voice of moderation with an international reputation. He is active in dialogue with other faiths and discussions of how Islam can integrate into European societies.