TUE, 20 FEB 1996 20:58:10 GMT
On the Eve of the International Ecumenic Meeting in Belgrade
AIM Belgrade, February 18, 1996
What can be done to reconcile the quarrelled south Slav nations - this is the topic which religious communities, among others, are increasingly occupied with. It is true that noone can see quite clearly the actual ways for spiritual revival of their own members and their preparations for forgiveness, since, as some of the high dignitaries say, "too much hatred has accumulated and almost all bridges among nations have been demolished". However such statements may sound as a reflection of helplessness and hopelessness, religious dignitaries have lately expressed a willingness to talk with their colleagues from other churches and religious communities.
Among the religious circles in Belgrade, the message of the Bishops' Conference of B&H struck a responsive chord, since it begged forgiveness from all those who had suffered evil perpetrated by members of the Roman Catholic Church and called to dialogue with the Serb Orthodox Church and the Islam Community. The recent ecumenic meeting of Christians in Belgrade Archbishopric held as part of the "Week of Prayers for Christian Unity" also had great effects, since it was attended by representatives of the Serb Orthodox Church, Evangelical, Reformed, Anglican and Greek Catholic Church. The joint message, which was not stated in an official document, was that all churches and religious communities had to do everything possible for the peace agreement signed in Dayton and Paris not to remain just a dead letter, and that it had to be offered spiritual support in a special way.
A conference on the topic of "Religious Tolerance and Possibilities of Ecumenism Today" organized by the Democratic Party was also held in Belgrade. Political parties and organizations have not organized such or similar gatherings before, but it is highly significant that this one was attended not only by representatives of the Serb Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, but also by some public personalities who are not specialized in religion. Although sociologists of religion, that is, layman, still disagree concerning the issue whether the past war was a religious war or not, it is an established fact that such gatherings open numerous issues in an attempt to penetrate into the causes of this war and its consequences.
The forthcoming international ecumenic meeting to be held on February 19 and 20 this year at the Theological Faculty in Belgrade is expected to have bear significant results. About fifty theologists from the former Yugoslav space will attend, as well as from Eastern and Western Europe. The gathering is organized by the Conference of European Churches with headquarters in Geneva. The main topic is how Christian churches can contribute to reconciliation of nations. As far as it was possible to learn, presentations and discussions will not be only theoretical, but specific operation of priests on the ground will also be discussed, but return of banished religious dignitaries to their bishoprics, too. Representatives of Islam community were not invited to the gathering, and this provoked negative reactions in certain circles. If, however, one takes into account the fact that ecumenism is a movement for rapprochement among Christian churches only, there is no reason for wrong interpretations and nervousness. After all, a dialogue with other religions and religious communities is possible within ecumenism, and it will certainly be put on the agenda when "at least some of the issues within the Christian family are clarified".
According to the words of the host of the meeting, Dean of the Theological Faculty of the Serb Orthodox Church, the global situation in the territory of former Yugoslavia will be considered from the theological, ecclesiastic, and pastoral aspect at this gathering.
In this way, a dialogue is being re-established between the Serb Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church which had its ups and downs in the near and the hoary past. This dialogue at first began with contacts between the professors and students of the Ljubljana and Belgrade Theological Faculties, which were later joined by the Theological Faculty from Zagreb in a sopecific inter-faculty cooperation. These meetings developed into ecumenic symposia held regularly ever since 1974, but they were interrupted by the crisis and the war in the former Yugoslav space. It is certain that the ecumenic meeting in Belgrade will be a good occasion to talk about revival of that form of cooperation between theological faculties from Ljubljana, Belgrade and Zagreb.
In any case, this gathering like all the others, shows that the idea of ecumenism and the inter-religious dialogue in general, regardless of all temptations, is trying to survive. Those who are promoting it have a much harder and more serious task now, of course, than when it began striking root in the former Yugoslav space, either through contacts of the highest church officials, contacts of priests, or everyday contacts of ordinary believers - members of different churches.
(AIM) Ejub Stitkovac