ACN News: Wednesday, 21st March 2012 – SERBIA
Serbia: The country’s opening is an opportunity for Catholics
By Reinhard Backes
“In Serbia, the Catholic Church has been through a considerable amount of catharsis.” With these words, Mirko Štefković, Secretary of Bishop János Pénzes of Subotica, describes the situation of Catholics in this country of south-eastern Europe. Serbia’s opening after years of isolation, following the break-up of Yugoslavia, is seen by the Catholics as an opportunity, the 35-year-old Catholic priest emphasised further in a meeting with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). According to Štefković, some 410,000 Catholics live in Serbia. This Catholic grouping are made up of Hungarian, Croatian, Slovakian and German-speaking minorities. Serbia, which is seeking membership of the European Union, has 7.5 million inhabitants. The majority of the population are Orthodox Christians.
(Fr. Mirko Stefkovic, Secretary of the Bishop of Subotica, Serbia)
Serbia’s Catholic Church is divided into four Roman Catholic dioceses and one Greek Catholic diocese. The largest in terms of numbers is Subotica in the north of the country, in the province of Vojvodina. A hallmark of the region is its ethnic diversity. At the present time, 109 pastors belong to the Diocese of Subotica. Some 290,000 faithful are distributed among 116 parishes. “The focus of our pastoral work is the care of young people and families. The regular catechesis classes are well frequented,” says Mirko Štefković. There are good personal contacts with the Orthodox Church, but hardly any institutional cooperation.
Mirko Štefković describes the relations between the Catholic Church and the Serbian state as a “showroom” – excellent at first sight, but on closer examination in many respects vague and unsatisfactory. For example, the legal status of church bodies such as parishes remains ill-defined. They cannot even open a bank account. Equally unclear, he points out, is the recognition of academic qualifications obtained at religious colleges and universities abroad. In addition, the restitution of church property confiscated during the period of Communist dictatorship is only proceeding at a slow pace. For the time being, the Church therefore remains dependent on external assistance and financial support.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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