DAILY CATHOLIC     THUR-FRI-SAT-SUN     May 13-16, 1999     vol. 10, no. 94

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- After meeting with Ibrahim Rugova, the Kosovar leader, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran has concluded that the embattled Yugoslavian province has been largely depopulated, with only few hundred people left in the main city, Pristina.

          Speaking to a conference of military chaplains, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States said that the accounts he received from Rugova matched the reports he had heard from Church sources in the Balkans. The fact that only a few thousand people remain in Kosovo, he observed, "will give you an idea of the scope of the humanitarian disaster that is occurring."

          Among the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have left their homes, the archbishop continued, only a very small fraction will be able to return. And even for that minority, "It will take an international force-- military as well as civilian-- to give them confidence." He agreed with the suggestion advanced by Russian negotiators that the international force should be drawn from predominantly Orthodox nations.

          Looking toward the future, Archbishop Tauran said that an international conference on the Balkans is now "absolutely necessary, so that the crisis will not begin again in a few years." He said that it is important for the United Nations to demonstrate a real peacekeeping ability, and for Russia to show itself as a positive force on international affairs.

          Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova on Monday, during a prayer vigil for peace in the Balkans, called on Christians to pray for priests, especially the local bishop, who remain in Kosovo.

          "I ask you to pray for the priests who are still in Kosovo, especially for Bishop Mark Sopi who stayed behind, to give courage to those who have remained," Rugova said at the service organized by the St. Egidio Community at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome. Rugova, who had met with Pope John Paul II on Monday, said that if "Kosovo is a desert and Prizren is a ghost-city," then in that desert there is still a Catholic bishop: Bishop Mark Sopi, 61, Auxiliary of Skopje-Prizen for Albanian-speaking Catholics.

          Rugova told the Rome-based Fides missionary news service before his departure from Italy that Bishop Sopi is in Prizren with Father Tome Karrice, rector of the seminary and a few nuns, the first reliable news of Bishop Sopi, whose whereabouts were uncertain for the last three weeks.

          Bishop Joakim Herbut of Skopje-Prizren had expressed concern about Bishop Sopi, saying all he knew was that the bishop's sister and a nephew had reached Macedonia before Easter and that the bishop's personal secretary reached Skopje just after Easter. In early May, Archbishop Farhat Edmond, Nuncio to Slovenia and Macedonia on a mission to Skopje, failed to obtain news of Bishop Sopi, reportedly still in Kosovo. The bishop's telephone has been dead for weeks, since Belgrade telephone exchanges were put out of order by NATO bombing.

          On May 3, Serb authorities had assured the Nunciature in Belgrade that the bishop was well and safe in his residence. Now Rugova, by asking for prayers for Bishop Sopi -- who is a close friend and fully supports his moderate non-violence stance -- has fully confirmed that Bishop Sopi is in fact in Prizren having chosen to remain beside those who have not yet been forced from their homes.

          In Kosovo, before Belgrade began ethnic cleansing, there were some 60,000 Catholics (all Albanian-speaking except for 1,500 Croats). They were gathered in 23 parishes served by 37 priests, all Albanian except 5 Croats, including one Franciscan, and one Salesian from Slovenia.

          Meanwhile, ZENIT reports that according to the Yugoslavian government, priests and religious with Serbian passports are classified as "reservists" and could be called up by the army to serve in the war. Whoever leaves Yugoslavia, therefore, could be considered a deserter. At present, they are not even given temporary permits to leave the country for special meetings abroad to which they are invited, many of which are to organize aid for victims of the war.

          The Italian daily 'Avvenire' reports that the Belgrade delegation was absent from the Caritas International summit held in Zagreb, Croatia.

          "I asked for permission to go to the Croatian capital for a few days, but I was not even given an answer, Father Antun Pecar said. Father Pecar is director of Caritas-Serbia and parish priest of Nis. Priests and religious up to 60 years of age can be called up for service. It makes no difference if they are of another nationality; suffice it to carry a Yugoslav passport."

          Of a total of 200 priests and religious, only Archbishop Franc Perco, who is older than 60, and one of his assistants can travel. Even Auxiliary Bishop Gasparovic of Diakowo in southern Croatia, is subject to the same restrictions. He has a Yugoslav passport because part of his ministry is in a diocese in Serbia which includes the Belgrade airport. Over Easter the authorities tried to impede his return to Diakowo; he had much trouble obtaining the initial permission to leave.

          "It would not be so bad if they at least allowed Caritas to act and collect the aid," Father Antun said. But their veto of Caritas' activity has left the latter's warehouses empty for weeks and what is even worse, it is simply not allowed to receive aid. "The goods we are sent, which are a lot, especially from Italy, go directly to the Red Cross, which distributes them at will without consulting us. We have repeatedly expressed our willingness to cooperate, however, and to help everyone, but we need to be given freedom of movement in this area." ZE99051001

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

May 13-16, 1999       volume 10, no. 94


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