TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- An unusual charity soccer game was recently played in the northeastern Bosnian city of Tuzla.
The match pitted a team of Catholic priests against a squad of Muslim imams and was played under the slogan "For Children's Smiles."
All proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorship were donated to the city's home for underprivileged children and to an association for children with special needs.
The game was hardly a classic, but it attracted a sizable crowd and a festive atmosphere reigned in the city's Tusanj stadium. The final score was the least important part of the occasion.
"As the gospel commands, with love. Really with love – to show solidarity with those who are the most deprived," said Tuzla resident Zvonko Bosankić, one of the fans in attendance. "In these times, many are suffering or feel powerless and are lacking basic necessities."
'No Real Differences'
Another Tuzla resident, Luka Tadic, spoke of a rare feeling of togetherness.
Children watch the football match between Muslim imams and Catholic priests in Tuzla. Their T-shirts read: "For Children's Smiles."
"They should have organized games like this earlier, regardless of the cause, so that people can understand that there are no real differences between faiths, that we are all the same and that everyone should worship and pray in his own way," Tadic said. "No one should think of other ethnic groups as any different from one's own. As much as you respect your own faith, you should respect others. I just want to say that it's been a while since we had an occasion like this."
Samir Avdic, a member of the staff at the city's home for disadvantaged children, said politics has no place in charity work.
"I only ask everyone who can to help out, not just these children, but also others who are outside these institutions," Avdic said. "Just look at what is going on in out streets. I believe that even a small contribution could help create a better life -- and future -- for these children."
Most of the players said they had only one goal in the match -- to see smiles on the children's faces.
"I think that humanitarian activities are one way to connect with others, and where we can be united, and show that we can help those in need regardless of their faith," Father Simo Marsic said. "Every religion teaches that. The Catholic faith certainly teaches about the need to help those around us who are in need."
'Thank You For Thinking Of Us'
"In times like these, when we seem preoccupied with materialistic concerns and life is so fast-paced, it's important to look out for one's neighbors," imam Almir Dzinic pointed out. "We cannot ignore the plight of those who need our help, no matter where they are. It's out human duty to help those people in any way we can – first of all with a kind word, but also charitable donations."
But Marsic's teammate Luka Tunjic said it was only natural that the game would also inspire a little friendly competition.
"That's sport for you -- winning is always important," Tunjic said. "You may start by holding back a little, or overplaying it, but then the desire to win takes hold. It's only human. Having watched our team play recently, I think we should win."
The final score was 8-2 -- in the imams' favor.
The game was played for children's smiles, though, like the one on the face of Arnel Alijagic.
"I wish everyone all the best and thank you for inviting us to watch this game, and for thinking of us," Alijagic said.