Overture Made to Serbian Orthodox Church

Pope Greets Priests and Pilgrims from Yugoslavia

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 14, 2001 (ZENIT.org) .-
A pilgrimage of Serbian Orthodox Christians to Rome provided an unexpected opportunity to give impetus to the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Belgrade patriarchate.

Among the thousands of pilgrims who congregated in St. Peter´s Square at noon today were priests and youths of the Sabac-Valjevo Serbian-Orthodox diocese.

«Welcome!» the Holy Father cried in Serbian. «May the pilgrimage to the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and other martyr saints, whose memory Rome ensures, reinforce your Christian faith and sustain you in your commitment to construct a future of peace and development together with the other citizens of your country.»

Before the Serbian pilgrims returned home, John Paul II requested that they express his «affectionate greetings» to the Serbian Orthodox patriarch of Belgrade and the bishop of Sabac-Valjevo.

NATO´s intervention in Yugoslavia was regarded by the Orthodox Churches as an offense against the dignity of the Serbian people, which they believed was the primary objective. The Pope´s clear and reiterated denunciation of the move, and his reference to the ethical questions involved, served unexpectedly to improve relations between the Orthodox patriarchate of Belgrade and the Vatican.

On Holy Thursday 1999, at the height of the conflict, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, visited Orthodox Patriarch Pavle in Belgrade, to express the Pope´s solidarity. That meeting served to break the isolationism of the Orthodox Church, which Slobodan Milosevic tried to impose on it, according to Slobodan Eric, religious consultant for Belgrade´s Blic newspaper.

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