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Pope to visit Serbia for Orthodox celebrations in 2013?

CWN - April 20, 2012

As both Catholic and Orthodox Christians prepare to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the Edict of Milan, there is speculation that Pope Benedict XVI could be invited to join in Orthodox celebrations at Nis, in Serbia, the birthplace of Constantine, in 2013.

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej first suggested an invitation to the Pontiff while he was serving as Bishop of Nis. He repeated the idea after becoming head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in January 2010. However, an actual invitation to the Pope would have to come from the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and there are some bishops opposed to the idea. Pope Benedict would be highly unlikely to visit Serbia without an invitation from the Serbian Orthodox hierarchy.

At an April 17 press conference unveiling Vatican plans for the 1700th anniversary celebrations, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that any suggestions of a papal trip to Serbia are speculative. At this point, the papal spokesman said, there are no set plans for any papal trips abroad in 2013.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has not yet revealed its own plans for the anniversary celebrations at Nis. However there are some indications that there could be two celebrations: one for the Orthodox, another with a more ecumenical focus. That approach would allow the Serbian hierarchy to invite Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to one celebration and Pope Benedict to another—satisfying the insistence of the Moscow patriarchate that more preparation is necessary before a meeting between the Pope and the Russian Patriarch.

Metropolitan Hilarion, the top ecumenical official of the Moscow patriarchate, visited Serbia in April of last year, and there were rumors that he would discourage an invitation to the Pope. But the Russian prelate reported that “this topic was deliberately not discussed” during his meetings with Serbian Orthodox officials, and the Serbian Church should settle the question on its own.

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