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Muslims Chosen to Build Papal Chair in Bosnia

The Catholic Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina has chosen a Muslim family of wood carvers to build a chair that Pope Francis will use during a visit to the country in June. Traditionally, Bosnians make a new chair for every pope who comes to visit. But the honor has never been granted to Muslim craftsmen.

The Hajderovac family from the town of Zavidovici in northeastern Bosnia is famous in the region for carving wooden objects for everyday use, as well as religious symbols for Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The family tradition started 50 years ago with Sulejman Hajderovac whose son Salem took over after his death and passed the skills on to his son Edin.

When Salem learned in February that the pope will visit Bosnia, he contacted the local Catholic church and offered to build a chair for the pontiff. The proposal was forwarded to the church leaders in Sarajevo.

"They invited us for talk and we reached an agreement. After the formal procedure was over we started making this chair. I am extremely happy that we got the project, because making a chair for such an important person is a huge deal," he said.

The cost of the chair will be covered by private donations by members of the Zavidovici parish and the Hajderovac family, explains Catholic priest Miro Beslic.

"I had a discussion with my flock," he said. "It was difficult at the beginning, because people are struggling financially, but once they understood that it is about the pope, the Catholic leader of the world, but who is coming here also as a political leader of the world, then people said: 'let's go, we will support this.'"

The family has agreed not to reveal the cost of making the chair.

"It will be an honor for me and my family to build a chair for the Holy Father Francis," said Edin Hajderovac.

He says that the chair is being made of walnut. Pope Francis will sit on it during a mass on June 6 in Bosnia's capital Sarajevo. About 100,000 people are expected to attend.

The parish priest meanwhile hopes the chair will make history.

"With this, the Zavidovici parish will enter the history of Bosnia, and in a way, the history of the Catholic Church, and in the end the history of the world," he said.

The Hajderovac family has put off all other orders to finish the chair by the end of May when it has to be delivered to Sarajevo.