A Catholic school founded in Sarajevo, Bosnia during the country’s recent war has made it their goal to teach children to embrace ethnic differences, without letting them hinder interpersonal relations.
“During such terrible times the Catholic Church opened and established the St. Joseph Catholic School Center just to show, not by empty words and proclamations, that it’s possible to cherish your own identity and at the same time your own identity must not be an obstacle to live and work together” Ivica Mrso told CNA June 17.
“That is our mission and that is what we’ve been trying to do for the last 20 years.”
Mrso oversees the Saint Joseph Catholic School Center in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which was the host for a recent Oasis conference discussing the theme “The Temptation of Violence: Religions between War and Reconciliation.”
Founded during the Bosnian War of 1992 – 1995, the school is unique in the sense that it is free of charge for the parents and children who attend, but most of all because it is both a multiethnic and interreligious school.
“Our Catholic school unique” because “we are a truly multiethnic and interreligious school here” Mrso noted, pointing out that “Almost one-third of the professors and the students are not Catholics.”
This is a significant fact, he explained, because of the ethnic tensions that drove the Bosnian War just 20 years ago.
Coming as the result of the breakup of Yugoslavia, the war began after the multiethnic Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina pushed for independence from the Yugoslav territory, which was recognized on an international level just before the war broke out.
Bosnian Serbs, who were practicing orthodox and who had the support of neighboring Serbia, rejected the referendum of independence and formed an army within Bosnia to fight against the country’s Muslim Bosniak and Catholic Croat populations.
As a result, the Serbs began a policy of ethnic “cleansing” in large areas of Bosnia inhabited by non-Serbs, and Muslim, Croat, and Serb residents opposed to the army were cut off from food, utilities and communication.
Observing how the whole country of Bosnia and Herzegovina is still “divided by the last terrible war,” Mrso noted that the founding of the school during the time when Sarajevo was still “under siege” is significant.
“Probably in people’s minds were two things, two thoughts: first to survive, and another one to get out of Sarajevo and to get out of Bosnia and never come back.”
However “During such terrible times the Catholic Church opened and established the St. Joseph Catholic School Center just to show…that it’s possible to cherish your own identity and at the same time your own identity must not be an obstacle to live and work together,” he said.
“We are trying to be a sign of hope, but also a sign of contradiction or opposition to those who believe that since we are different” there is nothing in common, the director explained.
“But we have also so many common things” Mrso noted, stating that “I am Catholic, I am Croat, and I am proud of that, so I share so many common things in this country, with Bosniaks, with Serbs, those who regard themselves as atheists, etc.”
Regarding the significance of hosting a conference on the temptation of interreligious violence at the school, the director explained that “it’s a nice message. It’s a symbol.”
“It’s not just empty talk, because for the last 20 or 30 years” all political parties in Bosnia, Croats, Muslims and Bosniaks, “everyone will talk about dialogue, tolerance, respecting each other, etc. But in reality it doesn’t work.”
However “we mean what we say in the Catholic School” he stated, explaining that “we are a living example that it’s possible to have a normal, good school” where those who differ can live side by side.