Yugoslavia Has to Recoup Its Urge to Rebuild

Interview With Archbishop Cordes of «Cor Unum»

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 10, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Postwar Yugoslavia still has to overcome the Communist mentality that «destroyed much of the human dynamic to build,» a Vatican aide says.

German Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council «Cor Unum,» met last week with the country´s Catholic bishops´ conference and Caritas representatives, to launch a new phase of assistance, moving from emergency aid to social action in favor of the country´s future.

Archbishop Cordes, who is responsible for coordinating the Church´s charitable work, also met with Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and discussed new possibilities for cooperation between the minority Catholic Church and the new democratic authorities of Belgrade.

Following is Archbishop Cordes´ evaluation of his trip, which was transmitted over Vatican Radio.

–Q: What is the first challenge Yugoslavia must face?

–Archbishop Cordes: First, the traces of war must be eliminated. The country has been bombed and destroyed; everything must be rebuilt. However, this external dimension must be coupled with another, perhaps more difficulty undertaking, which is to re-create a sense of responsibility in people.

It is easy to understand that Communism has also destroyed much of the human dynamic to build. When the state was the «great mother,» during the Communist period, it obliged almost all to be like children. Now there is an important transformation [going on] in society, the government, and especially the Church, desiring to change this mentality.

Often, in other countries, after a certain period following the fall of Communism, Communist officials returned, as they were the only ones prepared for politics [and] government. The old forces of Communism have not died in Yugoslavia either, and they are trying to return to power.

–Q: There are over 500,000 refugees in Yugoslavia. Keeping in mind that the Catholic population is not greater than 5%, what work does Caritas carry out, and what are the challenges facing the charitable organizations of the Catholic Church?

–Archbishop Cordes: Thank God the Catholic network functions very well, despite the small presence of Catholics. Thanks to the parishes, the Catholic Church has reflected God´s goodness in its charitable work. Moreover, I think that Caritas´ model of work is very positive, as it does not create a large administration, but tries to be close to the people. Hence, Caritas is not just an institution, but also a reality based in the parish, and this is very good.

–Q: Indeed, the object of your visit was also to relaunch this work of Caritas.

–Archbishop Cordes: I met with all the bishops and they told me that, after this emergency phase, we must begin a new phase, that is, to create a Caritas network, and a new body for charitable work.

–Q: What did you discuss in your meeting with Yugoslavian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic?

–Archbishop Cordes: The Prime Minister was very open and cordial and promised to act as intermediary between the state and Caritas. We spoke about the difficulties relating to the transport of medicines, which face a high customs duty. The prime minister also said that he wanted to be the intermediary with other [government] ministries to facilitate aid.

–Q: A few days ago the news circulated of the discovery of two more common graves of Kosovar civilians in Serbia. Did you discuss this with the bishops of Yugoslavia?

–Archbishop Cordes: I think the great demon of this area is nationalism, which has introduced so much tension and caused so many wars. It is interesting to note that different peoples are represented in the Catholic bishops´ conference.

For example, Archbishop Stanislav Hocevar, president of the conference, is Slovenian, and Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo is Croatian. The bishops´ conference is a mixture of different nations. The bishops are very sensitive to their belonging to a certain people, but also to the need to overcome differences with a spirit of faith.

I think that, at present, the message launched by the Catholic Church is that of the communion among the faithful and solidarity among peoples. This is very important, because if is necessary to overcome those nationalist elements that have caused so much harm in the past.

These elements are overcome especially when one sees a brother, a sister in the other, and only after that, membership in a people.

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