“There is a great desire on all sides for the Pope to visit Serbia, although this will not happen so quickly,” says the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church of Belgrade, Stanislav Hocevar.
“Among other things, also because the new Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church has been elected, who must first meet with the other Patriarchs to be more involved in the whole world of Orthodoxy and make his contribution before such a decision is made. Everybody is willing to work harder to find the best time for a visit that will benefit everyone. Personally, I am an optimist,” says Archbishop Hocevar.
Several meetings between Serbian and Vatican officials have been organized in recent years, and a meeting between representatives of Serbian MPs and representatives of the Catholic Church was held on February 8. For Archbishop Hocevar, the meetings between the Vatican and Serbian officials are understandable, given that diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1920, during the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the precursor to Yugoslavia.
The archbishop says that if Serbia wants to use the maximum of its capabilities in Europe, it has to become a country of greater dialogue. “And that means dialogue with the Holy See, which has the oldest diplomacy and represents the most universal values,” he says.
Milos Vulic, a doctoral student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and a researcher of papal diplomacy in the Vatican, believes that the intensification of meetings between the Vatican and Serbian officials is the result of diplomatic activities between the two countries. He recalls that the Vatican appointed Monsignor Luciano Suriani as its current apostolic nuncio to Serbia, a high-ranking personality in the Vatican Secretariat of State.
“His appointment was a message to Serbia how the Vatican sees Serbian politics and the Serbian Orthodox Church,” Vulic said. The Vatican has not recognized the independence of Kosovo and its position is that the solution in the relations between Belgrade and Pristina should be defined in the dialogue that the two sides are conducting with the mediation of the European Union.
However, there is a historical and political gap between the Holy See and official Belgrade regarding the Vatican’s and Catholic clergy’s attitude towards the so-called Independent State of Croatia (NDH), where Serbs, Jews and Roma were systematically persecuted during World War II.
In 2012, the former Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Irinej, had said that the Pope’s route to Serbia should go through Jasenovac, a concentration camp ran by the Nazi collaborators in Croatia called ustaše, where, according to historiographic data, some 90,000 Serbs were killed.
“Perhaps the Catholic Church’s apology for the crimes committed in Jasenovac could be a gesture of hope that such a thing will never happen again,” the then Patriarch said.
This post is also available in: Italiano