Signs of the Times

Bringing Reconciliation to the Balkans

MACEDONIA - The ancient town of Ohrid, in Macedonia near the Albanian border, has winding streets and alleys full of Christian treasures, like the ninth-century St. Sophia Cathedral. But after decades of religious suppression under Communism and the breakup of Yugoslavia, Ohrid’s Catholic community was down to 100 or so faithful when a Catholic pastoral center opened in 2003. “So much remarkable history, yet we had dwindled to a handful of elderly believers,” recalled Stjepan Kusan, S.J., who has served as the center’s director from the start. With the strong support of the Croatian Province of the Jesuits in Zagreb, the Archdiocese of Skopje, Macedonia, and Catholic foundations like Renovabis in Germany, Father Kusan set out to revive the community.

The center is credited with bringing about a Catholic spiritual and cultural revival as well as reconciliation between religious groups in the region. In the Balkans, where tension between faiths is far more common historically than ecumenical dialogue, it is rare to find the level of cooperation between religious groups that now exists in Ohrid. Relations between the town’s Catholic and Orthodox churches have been described as excellent by observers ranging from local police officers to teachers, the most cordial and cooperative since the civil war fought between the government and ethnic Albanian insurgents ended in June 2001.


“The hatred and distrust fomented by the Balkan wars means that we, the churches and clergy, must find new ways to be together, identifying common ground which benefits the spiritual and educational development of all our people,” Father Kusan said. “Reconciliation must be premised on concrete activities taken up together,” he said.

The Church of Sts. Benedict, Cyril and Methodius sits between two wings of the pastoral center. The center also houses the Jesuit Refugee Service office covering Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Programs to benefit young Balkan land mine victims are held there each summer. The center has also helped several local Orthodox priests get scholarships to study abroad and has started a marriage encounter program with a local Orthodox parish to help improve communication between husbands and wives. Muslim couples have joined the program as well.

For the last three years, the most popular programs offered by the collaborating parishes are language classes in Albanian, English, German, Turkish and even Vlach. Support for an unusual language like Vlach underscores the balance sought by the center’s leadership: encouraging ethnic identity while guarding against conflict. The Vlachs were nomadic shepherds living in compact communities in Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey and Romania. They were the first ethnic group given cultural autonomy under the Ottoman Empire in 1905.

“We believe people should be able to keep their own language and culture,” Father Kusan said. “This allows freedom of expression and pride, without being separatist or aggressive.” More than 1,500 people have graduated from the courses since the program began. Approximately 65 percent of Macedonia’s population belongs to the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Muslims comprise 33 percent of Macedonians, while other Christians make up less than 1 percent of the population.

Avery Dulles Dead at 90

NEW YORK - Avery Dulles, a Jesuit theologian who was made a cardinal in 2001, died Dec. 12 at the Jesuit infirmary in the Bronx, New York. He was 90 years old. Cardinal Dulles was born Aug. 24, 1918, in Auburn, N.Y., the grandson of a Presbyterian minister. He entered the Catholic Church in 1941 while a student at Harvard University. He served in the Navy in World War II, then entered the Jesuits after his discharge in 1946. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1956.

Cardinal Dulles had been the Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society at Fordham University in New York since 1988. He also had taught at Woodstock College, now part of Georgetown University, from 1960 to 1974, and at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1974 to 1988. He had been a visiting professor at many Catholic, Protestant and secular colleges and universities.

The most famous of his 27 books on theology was his groundbreaking 1974 work Models of the Church. Past president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society, Cardinal Dulles served on the International Theological Commis-sion and also served as a consultant to the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

Cardinal Dulles was the son of Janet Avery and former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who served under President Eisenhower. Dulles had two other relatives who served as U.S. secretary of state: his great-grandfather John W. Foster and his great-uncle Robert Lansing. The cardinal’s uncle, Allen W. Dulles, served as Director of Central Intelligence for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.

Bishops Appeal to U.S. for Help With Peace Accord

CONGO- Congolese church officials appealed to the United States to help implement a foundering peace accord among warring militias and Congolese troops. Calling the conflict in eastern Congo the worst since World War II, Bishops Fulgence Muteba Mugalu of Kilwa and Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Bokungu said on Dec. 9 that the United States must help implement the Amani Program, the peace process set up as part of the January cease-fire signed in Goma, capital of the North Kivu administrative region. “The average Congolese thinks that Rwanda is behind the conflict and that the United States backs Rwanda,” said Bishop Muteba. The average Congolese thinks his or her “misfortune is the fault of the United States. Right or wrong, but that is the perception of the average Congolese,” added Bishop Muteba, who is also president of the Congolese bishops’ social communications commission. “It is important that U.S. diplomacy” show this is not the case, he said. The bishops and Marie-Bernard Alima, a member of the Society of St. Joseph who is executive secretary of the Congolese bishops’ justice and peace commission, were on a tour through Canada, the United States, France and Belgium.

U.S. Group: Iraq Violates Religious Freedom

A U.S. watchdog group monitoring international religious freedom said Iraq should be named one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. In a report released Dec. 16, the U.S. Commission on Inter-national Religious Freedom said Iraq deserved the designation “in light of the ongoing, severe abuses of religious freedom and the Iraqi government’s toleration of these abuses, particularly abuses against Iraq’s smallest vulnerable religious minorities.” The commission said Chaldean Catholics and other Christians face dire circumstances. “These groups do not have militia or tribal structures to protect them and do not receive adequate official protection,” it said. “Their members continue to experience targeted violence and to flee to other areas within Iraq or other countries, where the minorities represent a disproportionately high percentage among Iraqi refugees.” The commission, an independent body, makes its recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress. Four commissioners out of nine voting members dissented from the decision to name Iraq as a country of particular concern, saying that government inaction or complicity with such abuses had not been sufficiently established.

Archbishop to Convene Education Summit

In the wake of declining enrollment and increasing financial challenges, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore is convening an education summit of priests in January to help strengthen Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Parents and other supporters of Catholic education also will be invited to participate in the process, Archbishop O’Brien said. The archbishop announced the summit in his weekly column in the Nov. 27 issue of The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper, while also outlining recent enrollment and financial trends in archdiocesan schools. He previously shared the data with his closest advisers during a November meeting of the priests’ council. In conjunction with the summit, the archbishop formed an education-related pastors’ advisory committee to help him plan for the future. Members of the advisory committee met twice among themselves and once with the priests’ council. In his column, Archbishop O’Brien reported that enrollment is down 5 percent this school year—twice the average rate of decline over the previous five years.

Retired Bishop George M. Kuzma of the Byzantine Eparchy of Van Nuys, Calif., died Dec. 7 at Mount Macrina Manor in Uniontown, Pa. He was 83. An announcement from the eparchy about his death said Bishop Kuzma’s “deep love and dependence on the Holy Spirit [was] a recurring theme of his priestly and episcopal ministry.” Bishop Kuzma was born July 24, 1925, to Ambrose and Anna (Martin) Kuzma of Windber. He served in the navy during World War II and then began his studies for the priesthood.

News briefs

The Catholic Church in Wisconsin is reaching out to the more than 5,000 families who will be affected by the impending closure of a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wis. • Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit emphasized on Dec. 17 the need for urgent government action to help Detroit’s automakers stay afloat. • John P. Foley, S.J., executive chairman of the Cristo Rey Network of inner-city schools was among the 24 people awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal on Dec. 10 by President George W. Bush. • The University of San Francisco has angered some Catholics by giving Irish President Mary McAleese an honorary degree despite her public support for gay rights and the ordination of women. • Robert Kearns, S.S.J., known as Rocky, former superior general of the Josephites, died in an Alabama hospital Dec. 6 from complications of cancer. He was 72. • Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock is believed to be the first U.S. Catholic bishop to join the popular Web site Facebook. As of Dec. 11, he had 894 friends worldwide and counting.

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