“Relentless reconstruction”

Interview with Mons. Stanislav Hocevar in the 90th of the archdiocese of Belgrade

On October 26, to the presence of Catholic faithful from throughout the Western Balkans, Belgrade staged the celebrations marking the 90th anniversary of the reconstruction of the archdiocese of the Serbian capital, dating back to October 29 1924. “The situation was difficult from the onset”, is the description of the Cardinal of Sarajevo Vinco Puljic, who presided over the celebrations. “Reconstruction works of the diocese were supposed to begin in 1914, when the Concordat was signed by the Kingdom of Serbia and the Holy See, but the outbreak of World War I prevented it”, the archbishop of Belgrade, Msgr. Stanislav Hocevar, told to Iva Mihailova for SIR Europe. “Today Belgrade’s Catholics courageously bear Christian witness” in an environment “where every day there is an occasion of ecumenical dialogue”, while preparations for the diocesan Synod are ongoing. Your Excellency, what has changed over the past 90 years? What has been the best period and which were the most difficult years? “The best period was from 1924 to 1940. At the beginning there were many Catholics in Belgrade, more than 100 thousand, and six parish churches were built in the capital alone. But when World War II broke out many Catholics were forced to flee from Serbia, and later on, notably during Communist rule, the number of Catholics dropped. This decrease continued under Slobodan Milosevic’s leadership. Now the number of faithful is stable. In fact, it increased slightly, many people who did not attend religious services during Communism have returned to the Church. Over the past years also faithful from Kosovo who work in Belgrade have joined our communities. At present there are 40 thousand Catholics in the archdiocese of Belgrade”. What are the major challenges for diocesan life today? “We are operating in a transformed political and social environment. Catholics feel lost, Serbia began its journey towards the European Union, while social problems are growing worse. We cannot be just a ‘Sacristy Church’. We must fulfil our mission as we are taught by the Magisterium. This requires new methods in pastoral activity: for this reason on October 26 was announced the preparation for the first diocesan Synod in Belgrade. We must also promote ecumenical, interreligious and social dialogue. A very effective tool in this sense is Caritas, which thanks to help from Western Europe, has given assistance to thousands of people during this year’s inundations”. One hundred years after the Concordat with the Holy See how are the relations between the Vatican and Serbia? “There is a good cooperation, and the visit of Mons. Mamberti, Vatican Secretary for relations with the States, in June, along with other high-level prelates in the years testifies to this. We must keep in mind that Serbia has had to face many challenges in its recent past and for this reason the Catholic Church wants to develop its relations with Belgrade in a gradual manner. I think that the time has come to give new impetus to the good relations with new initiatives of concrete cooperation”. Are there good relations with authorities and with the Serbian Orthodox Church? “On the whole relations are very good, despite unsolved problems like the full restitution of ecclesial property. We must cooperate more with local authorities, it is required by our work in the parishes and Caritas activities. With our Orthodox brothers we also have good relations but we are lacking concrete initiatives. For example, Patriarch Irinej came to Christ the King parish for Mass on the occasion of Serbia’s national holiday. He was also present during the visit of Mons. Mamberti. We would like to work together especially in the field of family pastoral care to promote the principles of Christian doctrine in modern society, because some trends of Western culture are also reaching Serbia”. As a pastor, what is your opinion of the European integration of Serbia? “I think that European approach on the whole is positive and we noted policymakers’ determination to pursue this path. However, difficulties remain: not everyone manages to fully understand European values and put them into practice. The dialogue between the Serbian government and European institutions, based on concrete commitments whose fulfilment is monitored, should also prompt the development of our Country”.

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