.- Today in the Vatican, the Holy Father received the Letters of Credence of Antun Sbutega, the first ambassador of Montenegro to the Holy See. The smallest and youngest republic of the former Yugoslavia recently voted to open diplomatic channels with the Holy See.
In his address, Benedict XVI sent his greetings, via the ambassador, to all of Montenegrin society which, "in its ethnic plurality, has wished to establish a direct and cordial dialogue with the Holy See.”
“Over the centuries," the Pope said, "the peoples of the current Crna Gora have always maintained dynamic and cordial relationships with neighboring peoples, making interesting contributions to the life of European nations."
The Balkans have historically been marked by war and religious-ethnic conflicts. The tiny country which is now Montenegro is nearly 3/4ths Orthodox Christian. The Catholic population of the country is very small.
The Pontiff recalled the 1886 decision of Prince Nicholas of Montenegro, who signed a convention that aimed to meet the spiritual needs of Catholics in that country. "When the evangelical message of salvation reached the lands of Montenegro," said the Holy Father, "by embracing the eastern and western traditions together," the country "came to be characterized as a privileged place for the ecumenical encounter that everyone longs for.”
“The meeting between Christians and Muslims also took on compelling forms in Montenegro,” the Pope said.
"It is necessary," he added, "to continue this journey, on which the Church hopes that everyone will make a joint commitment to unite forces in the service of the inborn nobility of human beings. The Church, in fact, sees this as a significant part of her mission... while maintaining respect for the traditions that give a land its identity."
After voicing his conviction that, in Europe, Montenegro "will not fail to give its active support in the civil, political, social, cultural and religious spheres," the Pope identified one of the country's priorities as "reinforcing the state of law in the various sectors of public life" in order to promote "an increase in citizens' trust in society," both "as individuals and as a community."
Turning to consider the position of Catholics in the country, Benedict XVI noted that "the full recognition, dating to more than a century ago, of the life and goals of the Catholic community in the context of Montenegrin society has turned out to be useful to the sovereignty of the State and ... to the specific mission of the Church."
He also recalled "the respectful attitude of the Orthodox Church of the time, which did not oppose the agreement with the Apostolic See," but considered it "a useful instrument for meeting people's spiritual needs."
The Pope concluded his address by reiterating his great esteem for Montenegro and expressing hopes in the continuance of "fraternal dialogue with the Orthodox, so present and active in the country," and of "millennia of mutual respect."