Pope Raises Hopes, but Attack on Serbia Clouds Church Ties

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 16, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Pope Raises Hopes, but Attack on Serbia Clouds Church Ties

Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)

The papal visit to Orthodox Romania and the NATO bombing of Orthodox Serbia have focused attention on Eastern Christianity, but church leaders say the events have complicated global Christian relations.

By making the papal visit to Romania, the first ever to an Orthodox nation, Pope John Paul II last week may have opened the way to an all-important visit to Orthodox Russia by 2000.

The NATO bombing of Serbia, however, has increased the sense of East-West tension in Christianity.

Two days after the bombing started, church officials called off international Roman Catholic-Orthodox talks scheduled for June at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Maryland.

"The Eastern Orthodox Church has become both a part of the hard news as well as the religious news," said the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, ecumenical officer for the Orthodox Church in America. "And that is a real challenge."

Father Kishkovsky, who was in the church delegation that visited Belgrade, Yugoslavia, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson gained the release of three U.S. soldiers, said the complexities of the Eastern church have led to many stereotypes.

One miscomprehension, he said, is that Serbs and Russians are always allies. He added that the West may not realize that former Yugoslavia still is run by a regime of anti-religious, communist vintage.

"The church in Serbia, as a whole, is not co-opted by the government," he said. "Patriarch Paveli has raised his voice against the suffering in Kosovo, and against the bombing."

Since 20 percent of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are Orthodox, he said, both Christians and Muslims have suffered from ethnic cleansing and members of both faiths fill the refugee camps.

Father Kishkovsky has talked with White House officials and says they understand the complex religious issues. Yet he said media portrayals have often linked Orthodox religion to Belgrade's ethnic policies.

Last week, the Vatican characterized Pope John Paul II's visit to Romania, the second largest Orthodox country, as "a breakthrough" in Catholic-Orthodox relations. The pope is hoping to achieve a symbolic unity of Christianity for a 2000 celebration.

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