September 11, 2015
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic was in the Vatican on Friday where he met with the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis.
Pope Francis and Serbian President Nikolic meeting at Vatican
September 11, 2015 / Photo: Tanjug
Nikolic told Tanjug late on Friday that he "had a very open discussion with the pope about Stepinac" during which he told him that the Croatian Catholic cardinal had played "a very bad role" in the Second World War.
"He (Stepinac) should at least not have remained silent as someone was killing more than a million citizens just because they are not of (Roman) Catholic faith," Nikolic said.
Stepinac was the Croatian cardinal during the time of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) - a Nazi-allied entity responsible for running death camps for Serbs, Jews, and Roma.
According to Tanjug, the president said that the pope "told him at one point that he was in no rush to declare the cardinal a saint."
Nikolic also said that Stepinac "after that" endured "communist terror" - and that the Catholic Church may deduce from this he was "a beatified martyr" - but added that "Orthodox priests endured the same, hundreds were killed."
According to the president, Serbia, "which is a bridge between Russia and the EU, and China and the EU" could also represent "a bridge between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church."
"I think I came across a man who knows much and who understands everything, and who accepted almost every one of the claims and suggestions I had to offer. This was a meeting between people who immediately understood each other well," Nikolic described the conversation he had at the Vatican.
He added it covered "relations between Serbia and the Vatican, establishment of a real dialogue between the two churches, the Middle East and North Africa migrant crisis, its causes, consequences, and solutions, as well as climate change."
According to Nikolic, there is "a common position that Christianity is endangered in the world, that there is no time for quarreling among religions and faiths, and that dialogues where various religions are in concord with citizens could prove that dialogue itself can achieve much."
"I think this visit, although once postponed (due to aircraft malfunction) was well prepared and serves as a preparation to one day arrive to the point where relations between Serbia and Croatia guarantee that the head of the Roman Catholic Church and (Serbian Orthodox) Patriarch Irinej could meet in Belgrade, Subotica, Prizren, and anywhere they wish," the Serbian president said.
Nikolic also remarked that "the Roman Catholic Church remains firm in its decision not to recognize the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo and Metohija."
Speaking about the pope, Nikolic told Tanjug:
"I think this is a man who is reconciling many peoples and religions in the world, but his position here is implacable that the Roman Catholic Church remains completely firm on the principle of non-recognition of the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo and Metohija."
He added that Pope Francis is "carefully monitoring everything that is happening in Kosovo and Metohija, aware of what the scope of the persecution of Christians and Roman Catholics had been there."
The president added that the pope was also aware of how free Roman Catholics are to "profess their faith, customs, tradition and culture in (central) Serbia," and that he also "knows what Serbia of today looks like, and is completely prepared to cooperate with it."
Nikolic informed his host about the history of the Serb heritage and Christianity in Kosovo and Metohija, about the Serbian Orthodox monasteries built by the nation's medieval rulers, and, in reference to ethnic Albanian violence targeting Serbs, their property, and holy places in March 2004 - "about the catastrophe that happened in 2004."
"I gave him a book that proves all that, recordings, I told him this is ours, that this is who we are, and that there is no way for us to renounce it," the president said, adding that the pope "absolutely agreed with everything."
Nikolic also presented Francis with a copy of (Tsar) Dusan's Code - a legal system enacted in the Serbian Empire in 1349 - as a rare example of a constitution in the 14th century Europe - as well as a book entitled "The Christian Heritage of Kosovo and Metohija," which he said "meant a lot, and will also be sent to all UNESCO member-states."
The president revealed that the pope - as he was telling him about some Serbian monasteries in Kosovo being saved in 2004 thanks to Italian soldiers - "listed their names."
The Vatican's press service said earlier in the day that Pope Francis and President Nikolic demonstrated "in the cordial discussions, the good existing relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Serbia."
"The parties considered issues of mutual interest regarding the relationship between the ecclesial and civil communities, with particular reference to ecumenical dialogue and the contribution of the Catholic Church to the common good of Serbian society," said a statement, and added:
"Attention then turned to Serbia’s progress towards full integration in the European Union, as well as various situations of a regional and international nature, including the condition of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and displaced persons, and the importance of promoting a shared solution to the current crisis."
Italy's ANSA news agency said that the pope and the Serbian president spoke for 35 minutes, and that Nikolic presented a copy of Dusan's Code to his host, along with an illustrated monograph dedicated to Serbian Orthodox monasteries in Kosovo.
Beside the refugee crisis, other topics included Serbia's opposition to the membership of the so-called "Republic of Kosovo" in UNESCO, and the formation of a mixed commission of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church that would consider historical facts from the Second World War era and the role of Catholic Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).
The Serbian president's press service said earlier that Nikolic would during the visit present Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin with the Order of the Republic of Serbia on a sash - a decoration for exceptional contribution to development and affirmation of friendly relations and cooperation between Serbia and the Holy See.
Refugees, Serb heritage
While in Rome today, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic also met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who told him that Serbia serves as an example to all of Europe as regards the refugee crisis, noting that Italy will not back a change in the status of the Serbian heritage in Kosovo.
The two presidents also discussed Italian corporate investments in the Serbian economy and the numerous common problems in the region.
Even though it is a transit country for migrants, Serbia is striving to act responsibly pursuant to fundamental civilizational principles and common European values, a statement from the press office of the Serbian president quoted Nikolic as saying.
The attempt by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija to portray the cultural and spiritual heritage there as Kosovo's own is certainly not an initiative aimed at protecting those monuments, and Serbia will fight against it, the Serbian president noted.
The Italian president said that Serbia's conduct in the refugee crisis serves as an example to all of Europe, and at the same time praised the constructive relationship that Serbia is building with the countries in the region.
Italy is ready to assist in the opening of the first chapters in the EU accession talks, he said.
Protecting cultural and religious monuments is in the interest of the entire international community and Italy will not back a change in the status of the Serbian heritage in Kosovo, Mattarella said.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org