“I, Catholic priest in Belgrade”

The witness of Fr Ninkovic, converted, a priest in the Christ the King parish

Born in Belgrade 50 years ago, of Serbian origin, comes from an Atheist family: Fr Alexander Ninkovic is a Catholic priest, he professes his ministry in the Christ the King parish in the capital of the Country. His story is quite rare since – by his own admission – Catholics in Serbia descend from foreign families: Croatians, Hungarians, Germans, and Albanians… “Unfortunately here it is impossible that a Serbian could be Catholic. In people’s perception most Catholics are Croatians”, confessed to SIR Europe. But for Fr Ninkovic, “in the twenty-first century patriotism cannot be linked to religious affiliation”. On the roads of Damascus. Following the footsteps of his father, young Alexander completed his degree at the Air University in Sarajevo, and became an Army officer. He then started to work as computer engineer. “I was an atheist agnostic and I criticized the Church in various Internet forums”, Fr Ninkovic said. “But I was tormented by the thought of the existence of God”. He approached the Catholic Church through his brother who decided to convert. “This is how I met the parish priest of Zemun”, a neighbourhood in Belgrade, “Father Marco Kurolto, who gave me several books on Christian faith and helped me know the Lord”, the presbyter recalled. After some time he felt called to the priesthood. He completed his theological studies in Hungary. “When the then archbishop of Belgrade, Msgr. Perko invited me to continue my studies, he couldn’t believe I would become a priest”, he said with a smile. The Catholic Community. Fr Ninkovic today serves in the “Christ the King” parish church in Belgrade. “There are few Catholics in the capital”, he said. There used to be many more Catholics in Belgrade in the years before the outbreak of WWI, “which is why there are as many as six Catholic parishes churches, way too many given the present situation”, the priest remarked. The archbishop of Belgrade Msgr. Stanislav Hocevar shares his views: “We need to reorganize parish services, also because the city has grown larger, while Catholic Churches are concentrated in the historic centre”. It is also necessary to solve the problem of the language used for the Mass celebrations. “Up to now we used to carry out religious services in Croatian because most faithful were of Croatian origins – the archbishop explained – but now there are many Albanians and some converted Serbians too”. Ecumenism. Although radical leaders had initially attacked him, today Fr Ninkovic holds several courses at the Orthodox Faculty of Theology of the State University in Belgrade. “There is ongoing cooperation with the Orthodox community”, he said. “Patriarch Irinej attends important events promoted by the Catholic Community”. However, in his opinion this “ecumenism of encounters should continue also in ordinary life, with concrete involvement also by the faithful”. “There still is widespread fear and the wounds of the past have not healed yet”, he sadly remarked. Writer and musician. In January 2014 Fr Ninkovic published his second book titled “The Teacher said”: a set of reflections on the meaning of faith. “As Pope Francis said, a large number of practising Catholics, including religious, know nothing of our faith”. For Fr Alexander “an in-depth understanding of Christian mysteries could prompt greater commitment on the part of lay people. They should not limit themselves to be spectators but actively take part in the life of the Church”. With his music band with which he has played for years, Fr Ninkovic also organizes musical and literary performances of passages from the Bible. The families. But the priest’s major challange are the families, even though “the marriage institution in Serbia continues being respected thanks to the influence of the Orthodox Church”, he said. He added “in the Balkan country there are few de facto couples, but this phenomenon is becoming widespread. Sometimes mixed marriages with Orthodox spouses become problematic, because young Catholics loose their faith”. Fr Ninkovic said, “High numbers of faithful who married ex-Communists or Orthodox spouses under communism, cannot receive Communion because their spouses oppose a religious marriage”. After his long, troubled journey towards faith, Fr Ninkovic bears witness, “the ways of the Lord are infinite”. He is thereby committed in bringing more people to join his flock “that they may enjoy the love and the tenderness of God by whom they were created”.

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