Religious Tensions Subside Amid Balkan Floods

'Adversity brings people together,' said Father Simo Marsic of the concerted response to the natural disaster that has claimed the lives of at least 40 people.

A flooded cemetery in the Archdiocese of Vhrbosna in Sarajevo
A flooded cemetery in the Archdiocese of Vhrbosna in Sarajevo (photo: CNA/Katolicka Tiskovna Agencija (KTA)/Bosnia-Herzegovina)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Amid the “inconceivable amount of devastation” caused by floods in Bosnia-Herzegovina, people are crossing ethnic and religious lines to help those affected.

“Adversity brings people together,” Father Simo Marsic, rector of the St. John Paul II Youth Pastoral Center in Sarajevo, told the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“It was impressive to see the extent to which people — whether Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim — were united by suffering,” the priest said May 26.

Floods caused by heavy rains have killed at least 40 people and displaced thousands more in Bosnia-Herzegovina and neighboring Serbia, the BBC reports. One-quarter of the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina now lack clean water. The country’s foreign minister has compared the physical damage to the damage of the 1992-1995 war, during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, a war which was fought largely along ethnic and religious lines.

Father Marsic said it is impossible to assess the destruction so far. The floods are the worst in 120 years and have affected all 40 parishes of the Archdiocese of Sarajevo, which serves about 60,000 Catholics.

The priest said that the damage has particularly affected survivors of the war, many of whom lost all their possessions two decades ago.

Landslides pose a special risk to homes and individuals. The floods have also changed the position of unremoved land mines, while decaying animal cadavers pose a risk of epidemic disease.

However, the natural disaster has helped create solidarity among all people, as these tensions were “forgotten,” Father Marsic said.

He said that, “by the grace of God,” people were “overcoming walls which exist between the ethnic groups and religions.”

He noted that, after a saint’s statue was washed out of a church, a Muslim man found it in the street and returned it.

The employees of Father Marsic’s youth pastoral center have supported the Catholic relief organization Caritas by distributing aid to flood victims.

The European Union has also promised aid.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy