“We should learn to understand each other better,” proclaimed Stanislav Hocevar, Archbishop of Belgrade, in calling for unity among Christians in Eastern and Western Europe.To understand the behaviors and sensibilities of the others, it is necessary to know their history, culture and traditions, the Archbishop added during a visit of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).The lack of unity, he continued, is regrettable not least in view of the challenges of our time, such as increasing globalization and the ever closer integration of Europe.
In his opinion, greater understanding of the sensitivities of the others could help to remedy the situation. For example, the traditionally close, historically rooted relationship between church and state, which in the East is also termed the “symphony,” is hardly understood at all in the West.
A multitude of nationally oriented churches is typical of the East; membership in the Orthodox Church is understood as a part of the national identity.
And, in the words of the Archbishop, the actions of western nations are identified with the position of the Catholic Church. Many do not understand, or ignore, the western tradition of separation of church and state.
In this context, Archbishop Hočevar, who hails from Slovenia and belongs to the Salesian Order, also called for a greater understanding for Serbia’s position in the Kosovo question. Independence, favored by the West, is difficult for Serbians to understand, he said.
“For them, Kosovo is a symbol and the West’s position an expression of an unjustified, one-sided solidarity with Muslims.”
But both sides, he added, would be well advised to resolve the problem peacefully and with great patience. People who have only recently thrown off totalitarian regimes must also be given time to learn democratic processes.
In the words of the Archbishop of Belgrade, the churches have a special role to play.
“We can build bridges between East and West,” said Archbishop Hočevar, who is also a member of the International Bishops’ Conference of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
The Catholic bishops of Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia are represented in this body. It is named for the two monks and Slavic apostles from Thessaloniki, who have been revered in the eastern churches for centuries.
In 1980, Pope John Paul II elevated them to Patrons of Europe.
The Archdiocese of Belgrade, founded in 1924, today numbers close to 10,000 faithful. Stanislav Hočevar was anointed Bishop in 2001. Twenty priests currently perform pastoral ministry.