AP PHOTOS: Pandemic meets religious holidays in Sarajevo

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Sarajevo, a religious melting pot throughout its more than five-centuries-long history, would normally be teeming with life this April. Instead, along with the rest of Bosnia and most of the world, it is under a lockdown to try to bring the new coronavirus under control.

During the war of the 1990s and the years of economic instability that followed, thousands of Sarajevo residents fled to other countries and remained there. It has become a tradition for former residents to return to the city each spring to celebrate religious or cultural holidays with family and friends.

This year, nobody is returning. The streets are empty. Family and friends will celebrate the holidays apart.

Sarajevo’s churches, mosques and synagogues — often standing just meters apart — are quiet. Worshippers of all faiths have been instructed by their respective religious leaders to shelter, and pray, in their homes and to forgo the traditional communal celebrations of their religious holidays.

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However, rather than locking the doors of the houses of prayer in Sarajevo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders are allowing small groups of worshippers, hand-picked from among healthy community members with lower risk levels, to pray inside.

They are livestreaming the weekly prayers and sermons to the homes of their followers from the spacious vastness of their places of worship, to convey a sense of community while following the dictates of social distancing.

There will be no gathering of Christians in churches and communal egg-cracking contests this Easter. Muslims will not meet in mosques to usher in Ramadan, nor will they share the fast-breaking meals during the holy Islamic month.

Last week, on the first night of Passover, for the first time since 1950, the estimated 500 members of Sarajevo’s small Jewish community did not gather to share the ritual Seder feast.

The messages the religious leaders of all faiths have been sending are the same: Use the solitude imposed by the lockdown to remotely reinforce bonds with relatives, friends and your community. Use this time of isolation to reconnect with yourself, your loved ones, and your faith.

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