Bosnia: Balkan religious leaders urge reconciliation, tolerance

Sarajevo, Bosnia – Balkans’ religious leaders at a meeting in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo on Monday pleaded for reconciliation and tolerance after a decade of bloody wars which devastated the region and claimed more than 100,000 lives.

The future should be based “on peace, reconciliation and awareness that we should live together”, he said. Bosnia’s Muslim spiritual leader Reiss ul-Ulema Mustafa Ceric told the meeting “dedication to truth, justice, peace and reconciliation” should be priorities of the region.

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church patriarch Irinej said that peoples of the region went “through tragedies and suffering” many times in history. “All this is being preserved in human memory, but as a call for revenge, but as a warning for the future.

The head of Bosnia’s Catholics, cardinal Vinko Puljic, said the Sarajevo meeting should pave the way for future cooperation and determine “dimensions of peace-builders”.

Apart from religious leaders, the meeting, organised by Italian Catholic St Egidio Community was attended by president of Croatia Ivo Josipovic, Montenegro Filip Vujanovic and the head of Bosnia’s rotating state presidency Bakir Izetbegovic.

The president of the European Council Herman van Rompuy and Italian prime minister Mario Monti were among foreign dignitaries attending the three-day inter-faith conference whose motto was “Our future is living together – Religions and cultures in dialogue”.

“If there is an area in Europe where culture of multi confession and multi ethnicity has left deep traces, in which people hundreds of years lived together despite differences, it’s southeast Europe,” Josipovic said.

He pointed out that there had been “shameful errors” in the past, not only by the people of the region but of the international community as well.

Monti emphasized the importance of religion “for peace and cohesion in the world”, pointing out that Rome was closely watching the "very important" Balkans region.

On Sunday, the Vatican's second-in-command sent a message to Cardinal Vinko Puljic, archbishop of Vrhbosna-Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI expressing his "joy and comfort to see that this pilgrimage for peace...continues to bear fruit."

In the message, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone said the pontiff sent greeting to world faith leaders and representatives attending the meeting "as well as the population of Sarajevo who are particularly dear to him".