The Pope wrote that it is vitally important for international organizations to represent the voice of reason and moderation, at a time when prudence may be overwhelmed by the passions that accompany any military conflict. He pointed out that since the Kosovo crisis came to the fore, he has consistently voiced his belief that "loyal, patient, and realistic negotiations" could produce a solution which would satisfy "the legitimate aspirations of the people concerned." In light of the current fighting, the wholesale eviction of people from their homes, and the NATO bombing strikes, the need for negotiations is all the more evident, he said.
The Holy Father also professed his "lively appreciation" for the organizations that have provided humanitarian aid for the victims of the fighting in Kosovo. He encouraged others to join in this effort, saying that the condition of the refugees constitutes "a human tragedy which calls out to every conscience."
"Along with all believers, I am convinced that hatred and violence can only be shackled through the power of brotherhood, of right, and of justice," the Pope concluded.
The delegation was led by the president of Italian Caritas himself, Bishop Benito Cocchi, who was accompanied by other leaders of the Catholic humanitarian organization.
The group was held up at the Bajakovo border post and, after three hours of waiting, were denied entrance and had their visas cancelled. Arguing with the authorities proved useless; after 24 hours, the delegation was forced to return.
"Beyond the distress and disappointment of the delegation," Cocchi said, "there is grave concern because of the seriousness of the incident. Henceforth, efforts to sensitize public opinion, regarding peace and solidarity and the needs of the Serbian population, victimized by war, will be that much more difficult. Italian Caritas confirmed its determination to carry out its mission of prayer, peace and solidarity, as soon as possible, hoping that it will not be faced with incomprehensible difficulties again."
The mission to Belgrade was part of a larger peace initiative which sent delegations to all the countries affected by the war. The one led by Bishop Cocchi was of "special significance and importance," given the task Italian Caritas is carrying out in Serbia, "where it has supported the projects of the local Caritas directed to the elderly, the mentally ill, and the handicapped, in an ecumenical spirit of sharing and solidarity." Caritas stressed that the mission had been prepared "through contacts with diplomatic and governmental authorities and with the highest authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church." ZE99042905
Members of the Bishop's Conference of Ethiopia and Eritrea are holding this week their 59th Plenary Assembly in Rome. The Bishop's meeting will conclude today, after which they will issue a statement.
"I repeat with urgency what I have said so many times in the past: every alternative to war must be pursued," said the Holy Father in his letter, asking tensions and conflicts to be solved in "and intelligent and creative" way. "War brings tragedy and despair, reaping innocent victims as it destroys lives and homes, families and peoples."
Offering his prayers for peaceful solutions through dialogue, the Pope recalled the Bishop's duty to "encourage every initiative aimed at restoring that harmony and friendship which formerly marked the relations between your countries. The Catholic Church throughout the world supports you in this task."
"We have been in Russia since 1772 -- Father Steczek told the daily 'Avvenire' --. We returned in 1992, we registered officially and opened two communities, in Moscow and Novosibirsk. Then, in 1997, the new law on the liberty of worship was promulgated, imposing a new registration, which is what we are being denied."
"Given the evidence, it is an absurd procedure. The Jesuits are an historical presence in Russia. They were present during the Soviet period, and Bishop Vert, the current apostolic administrator of Siberia, is a Jesuit. And it is even more absurd that the law of a State imposes obligations which not even the strictest canonical laws demand. They are asking for three communities and at least ten Russian religious in each community, in a country in which, up until recently, religion was illegal."
The Jesuits' case highlights the problems the new law has created. Experts say it has been written to favor "traditional" Russian religions, that is, Orthodox, Moslem, Buddhist and Jewish, and is very hard on the others, including the Catholic and Protestant.
Father Steczek pointed out the contradictions of the requirements of the Russian government, such as having ten religious members in each community.
"It is one of the many discriminatory aspects of the 1997 law. This law is in open contradiction to the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the International Convention on Human Rights and, as such, should be revoked. For example, the Ministry of Justice requests the Jesuits to register as a foreign organization with headquarters in Rome. The problem is that if the Jesuits were to comply with this request, they would be unable to work in the religious sphere, which is precisely their concern. The Ministry also needs the Jesuits to demonstrate the Order is an integral part of the structure of the local Catholic Church. But the 1997 law itself says the State cannot meddle in the internal affairs of religious organizations or in their canonical ordering."
The Jesuits have presented an appeal attesting to the fact the Order is part of the Catholic Church and, in particular, of the Apostolic Administration of European Russia. ZE99042903
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