Christians in Serbia

Independence for Kosovo is the only option says bishop

.- This past Friday, a proposal was floated by the U.N. envoy and former Finnish president Martii Ahtisaari's to grant Kosovo independence through a “phased transition to autonomy.” From the standpoint of the Church, there is only one option that will lead to peace and stability.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Dode Gjergji, the apostolic administrator of Prizren said, "For Kosovo there is in fact only one option -- independence. Otherwise there will be war. And we don't want any more war."  

Nominally, Kosovo is still under Serbian rule. However, since 1999 it has been administered by the United Nations. Catholics make up only a tiny minority of around 60,000 out of a mainly Muslim total population of 1.9 million. "Psychologically we are constantly aware of our minority situation", says Bishop Gjergji, who has been head of the diocese of Prizren since December 2006. Yet he is convinced that the number of Catholics will grow. Many Muslims who still remember their Christian roots -- the so-called "crypto-Catholics" are returning to the Church. "As yet they are a relatively small group, but in the longer term this trend will increase."

The prelate emphasized, "We must get out of the sacristy and go out to the people and proclaim the Good News to them. The people of Kosovo are ready to hear this message". The bishop's motto is: "I wish to proclaim the Gospel to all".

Above all the Catholic Church wants to engage in the field of the media, for "we have become mute and outside the church walls we have no voice", as the bishop puts it.

Despite her minority situation, the Catholic Church in Kosovo is undertaking a mediating function between the various different ethnic and religious groups. Even the Muslims describe Bishop Gjergji as "our bishop". At the same time, however, the Catholic Church is entirely dependent upon outside help.

Bishop Gjergji is critical of the efforts of the Serbian government to oppose independence. "It is not our task to become involved in politics, but we Albanians are looking towards the future."

For young people especially, he believes, the decision as to the national status of Kosovo is an important one. "If everything is left hanging in the air, then one cannot plan any kind of future", he observes. Some 60% of Kosovans are under 35 years of age and many young adults are emigrating abroad. The Catholic Church is hoping that the clarification of the status of Kosovo will help to encourage young people to remain in the country.

As for the practical day-to-day life of the Catholic Church, however, little is likely to change, in the bishop's view. "We desire to live in peace in a peaceful country, and indeed we can already do this today. When there are problems, however, they are often blown up by the media." At any rate, Bishop Gjergji is hoping that after independence there will be a better climate for the ecumenical efforts between Catholics and the Serbian Orthodox, who likewise constitute a minority. According to media reports, the decision on the constitutional status of Kosovo is expected by the end of May 2007.


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