Father Ivo Markovic, Franciscan monk and resident of Sarajevo, wanted an Easter choir in his church. Lacking enough Catholics, he set about searching for people of other faiths to make up his choir. Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslim, Jewish and atheist were recruited, all drawn together through their love of music. I read about Father Markovic in *The Christian Century Magazine recently, which set me on a search to know more him and his choir.
War raged in Serbia and Bosnia from April 1992 through December 1995. The conflict was devastating both to the city of Sarajevo itself and to those who lived there. Neighbors turned on neighbors. Friendships were torn apart in the conflict. By 1996, the first waves of peace had begun, but the peace was fragile. Rebuilding trust would take time and a great deal of forgiveness. It was then that Father Markovic decided to pull people together through music. He thought that if they could hear and sing the other’s sacred music, they would begin to understand their neighbors. People in his church resisted. Catholics wondered why anyone would allow a Muslim song into their sanctuary and Muslim’s wondered why they should sing there. Choir members asking those same questions discovered the music pulled them together. As they sang the songs, the spiritual significance of the music spoke to their hearts. They called the choir, Pontanima: “Pont” – meaning bridge and “Anima” – meaning soul. The music Father Markovic said, was to be a “Bridge among souls.”
Each tradition carried its own strength. There were the tender words and music of Islam and the playful dance of Jewish music. When they sang Eastern Orthodox hymns it was, he said, as if “we were angels.” Other Christian music gave recognition of God’s presence on earth. Rather than meeting to talk about peace or how to live together, Father Markovic encouraged the people in his choir to live the dialogue and live ecumenism in their singing together.
Thinking about the divisions in our country and the way that music can unite us. I wonder if there isn’t something we could do. What might happen if we were to learn to sing each other’s songs.
*Power of Music (The Christian Century 4/25/18)