The Serbian Orthodox base their fears on the nasty experiences of the Copts in Egypt and other "brothers in faith" in the Arab world. Their Greek Orthodox neighbors fan the flames of hatred with their traditional anti-Turkish feelings.
Anyone steeped in this atavistic ideology and conditioned by the Belgrade media is bound to perceive the Assisi meeting as the treacherous ganging-up of the Vatican and Islam against gallant little Serbia.
There is a relation between prayer and politics. Orthodoxy has never had a Second Vatican Council which saw positive values in Islam and non-Christian religions. In Sarajevo Christian-Muslim relations were exemplary, better than anywhere in the world according to U.S Jesuit Fr. Tom Michel of the Vatican's Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. And that included the Orthodox.
The Catholic-Muslim alliance in Bosnia (which to some extent overlaps with the Croat-Bosnian alliance) is the best defense against the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state which the Orthodox say they fear.
For the Bosnian Muslims -- this was the gist of Selimoski's statement in Assisi -- are European by tradition, would prefer help from Europe to that of Muslim fundamentalists from the Middle East, and share in the European values of respect for the "other" which John Paul stressed.
Les absents ont toujours tort (The absent are always wrong), says a French proverb. The sooner the Serbian Orthodox Church -- and the nation -- can bring themselves to rejoin the international dialogue, the better. It is more difficult to kill the "others" when you know them and have prayed with them. But it will need an act of repentance. □
( March 5, 1993) At Santo Domingo last October, an attempt was made to bring CELAM, the council of Latin American bishops, to heel. The African bishops, scheduled to meet in synod in Rome April 10, 1994, appear next for the treatment.