SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Their parents' generation is steeped in the tragedy of genocide. But these Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Muslim children are singing a message of love.
Srebrenica's Superar Choir is made up of Orthodox Christian Serb and Bosnian Muslim boys and girls; some have family members among the victims in Europe's worst massacre since World War II. Next week, they will sing for Pope Francis during his visit to the Bosnian capital Sarajevo — itself a symbol of the horrors of the Balkans wars.
The choir is living testament to the power of reconciliation and forgiveness, a message that Francis is eager to spread during his visit.
During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Serb troops executed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys after they overran the eastern town of Srebrenica. Some Bosnian Muslims returned to their homes and live among Christian Serbs. But the enmities have not healed, and the town remains deeply divided.
Except in the music school "House of Good Tunes" and its Superar choir.
Here, ethnic Serb and Muslim children have been practicing instruments and singing together every day for the last four years.
"This kind of mix is what we need in Bosnia," said Ismar Poric, who heads the choir of 220 children. "These children are a model."
For the past few weeks, the children, aged between 5 and 17, have been preparing for their performance before the pontiff, who can expect a rapturous welcome during his visit even though Catholics are in the minority in Bosnia.
"This choir is a multi-ethnic project of reconciliation," Poric said. "Friendships were born here, I hope life-long ones."
The choir is part of the international music movement Superar, founded in 2010 by the Vienna Concert House, the Vienna Boys Choir and the aid group Caritas Vienna.
The goal of the project is to widen the children's horizons, "to show them the world can be beautiful and to inspire them to look forward, to seek the good in life, to give them a ticket for a better future" said Poric.
The choirmaster grew up in Srebrenica in "troubled times" and is determined to make sure — as much as he personally can — that no child in Srebrenica ever has to endure what his generation had to suffer.
Organizers of Francis' visit recognized the similarity of mission between pope and choir, and invited the children to sing their song "Love People" for the pontiff during his Sarajevo mass.
"I am nine and I will sing for the pope!" gushed Bosnian Muslim girl Zejfa Ahmetovic. "He is a good man and I am happy."
Dajana Lazarevic, her 12-year-old Serb fellow chorister, believes singing for "such a great person will be a wonderful experience."