Catholics and Orthodox are closer ” “

The Balkan region is overcoming the natural disasters of past Spring. Solidarity and ecumenism rising to the challenge

In the Balkans, 2014 will also be remembered for the tragic floods that have hit different countries, especially Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina: unprecedented natural disasters in terms of the violent, serious outcomes, with dozens of victims, entire villages and rural areas under water, thousands of uninhabitable homes, interrupted transport… Yet, months since the “tragic spring”eyewitness accounts show that local communities have been able to react, highlighting the vital role of volunteers and Caritas, along with that of concrete “ecumenical solidarity”. “We wouldn’t have made it alone”. Zarko Kovacevic is 50. He lives in Mrdenovac, a town near Sabac, 90 kilometers north of Belgrade. He’s a farmer: the land and his cattle have always provided him and his family with a dignified life. However, he said with a broken voice, “the water destroyed everything in 15 minutes. The river flooded the yard and our house: we had to flee immediately”. The Kovacevic family was hosted by friends for several weeks, waiting for the water to withdraw. Then, in early October, they began to rebuild their home. “With the help of Caritas I received the building materials – pointed out the farmer -. We also received government assistance but it was minimal”. He explained: “we could not have made it on our own: the only income we have is my mother’s pension, the equivalent of 84 euro”. This is not an isolated case, of course. Mrdenovac is a very poor area and in many cases only one family member is employed. To them, the intervention of Caritas meant a great deal, “because – said Zarko Kovacevic – it came when no other organization could intervene”. The role of volunteers. Caritas aid to the population hit by the floods in the province of Sabac amounts to 400 thousand euro, while for the whole of Serbia the sum exceeds 2 million Euros to date. Volunteers were on the front line since the emergency broke out distributing food, clothes and blankets, as well as thousands of sanitary packages, drainage pumps, tons of animal fodder. “Soon the project for the reconstruction of houses affected by the floods will be completed”, the national coordinator of Caritas Serbia Darko Tot told SIR Europe. “Most displaced people – he added – have returned to their homes”. As winter set in heating equipment was distributed along with electric stoves, refrigerators and washing machines. The situation now seems under control. The gratitude of the Orthodox community. “Very few Catholics live in the areas hit by the disaster – pointed out Tot -, that’s why 99% of the recipients of our help were Orthodox families”. This did not go unnoticed, and on the occasion of the Sunday of Caritas, in December, the Orthodox Bishop of Sabac, Lavrentije Trifunovic, expressed “deep gratitude to our Catholics brothers and sisters from whom we can learn a lot in the service of charity to our neighbour”. He added: “This example of applying faith in life prompts us to imitate them and not to forget the poor”. The event was attended by many Caritas volunteers in Sabac, Valjevo, Krupanj and Belgrade, many of whom are Orthodox. Catholics’ solidarity, conveyed also by Pope Francis during the Angelus, has been recognized also by Prime Minister Alexander Vucic and by several representatives of national and local authorities. Wave of solidarity. “We have experienced a great tragedy but it triggered a huge wave of solidarity”, said the archbishop of Belgrade, Msgr. Stanislav Hocevar. He recalled “not only the difficulties caused by natural disasters, but above all the importance of mutual support that was manifested in the fast and organized assistance to the needy”. According to the prelate, “the charity of Christ drove people not to remain blind and deaf to the needs of others” and to “seek unity in diversity with Christians of other denominations, as it happens in the Holy Trinity”. More can be done together. A synergy between State authorities, various non-governmental organizations, the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and the donor countries was created to address the post-flood emergency. The director of Caritas Sabac, Miroljub Nikolic, said: “when the Churches work together they achieve more”. Aid to the needy is a concrete token of what can be done when we are united”, Nikolic pointed out. Projects for the future. The new project of Caritas Serbia to revitalize agriculture, the main occupation of most of the people hit by the floods, is set to take off next Spring. “We will also include subsidies for the breeding of animals and for the reconstruction of small family businesses: without facilities many carpenters and shoemakers can no longer ply their trade”, explained Darko Tot. Special attention will be dedicated to a program aimed at decreasing the risk of natural disasters.

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