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news 08 Jun 12

Serb Patriarch Starts 'Historic' Visit to Croatia

Patriarch Irinej, Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, has begun a three-day trip to Croatia that will include meetings with Catholic Church leaders and senior government officials - and may help ease tensions between the two countries.


Hundred of Orthodox believers on Thursday welcomed the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, to the Church of the Holy Transfiguration in Zagreb at the start of what many have called an historic three-day visit to Croatia.

In his welcoming address, Metropolitan Jovan of Zagreb-Ljubljana and Italy described the visit as one of peace and love.

On Thursday, Church dignitaries also opened a new building of the Serbian Orthodox Secondary School Kantakuzina Katarina Brankovic, and a spiritual centre in western Zagreb.

Croatian Serb politician Milorad Pupovac, President of the Serbian National Council, said he was joyful about the Patriarch's visit.

“Just like we welcomed [previous Patriarch] Pavle many years ago with joy, hope and great expectations on his first visit to Serbs in Croatia since the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the war in Croatia, with the same feelings we greet Patriarch Irinej,” Pupovac said.

The Patriarch and members of the Church Synod are also due to meet Croatian Catholic leader Josip Bozanic, the Archbishop of Zagreb, members of the Croatian Bishops' Conference, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.

Religious expert Zivica Tucic said the historic meeting will help ease tensions between the two nations, which were at war in the 1990s.

"The meeting is important so that the two churches can learn more about each other and establish closer ties, as the two nations live in neighboring countries and are mixed in each of them," Tucic said.

The Catholic Church in Croatia and the Serbian Orthodox Church remained burdened by the legacy of their respective roles in past wars.

In the 1990s, the Orthodox Church openly championed the drive to create a Greater Serbia that was to have included large parts of Croatia and almost all of Bosnia.

Serbs, meanwhile, still blame the Catholic Church for having supported the Fascist regime in Croatia during World War II, which slaughtered Serbs, as well as for backing Croatian independence in the 1990s.

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