Belgrade (Fides Service) - The presidents of 7 Bishops' Conferences (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia & Montenegro and Turkey) met from 20th to 22nd February in Belgrade - a city sometimes thought of as the meeting point between East and West - on the eve of the enlargement of the European Union. Here is the text of a statement issued by the CCEE in St Gallen.
Ecumenical co-operation is a key element in dealing with the region's problems. Delegates from Caritas and the Catholic Relief Service presented the results of a survey of the Balkan region and Serbia in particular, where the number of poor people has risen from 2% in 1988 to 21% in 1998. The Catholic Church has focused its current efforts in these countries on education for human and civil rights and combating violations, as well as material support. On the evening of Saturday 21st February, the bishops joined in a young people's prayer-vigil for Christian unity and Christian witness in Europe, and concelebrated a solemn Mass, led by Bishop Amédée Grab, the president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), in the presence of Cardinals Puljic of Sarajevo and McCarrick of Washington, Bishop Irinej and other representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the Serbian government's Minister of Religion. A catholic-orthodox choir sang at the Mass. Archbishop Sbarbaro, the Nuncio, hosted a reception where the bishops met political leaders and local civic dignitaries.
At the end of the meeting, there were some practical proposals for future work and study, and it was decided that the 5th meeting in this series will be in Sarajevo in 2005, as a gesture of solidarity with Catholics in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who live in a difficult situation and are often not supported in problems linked to repatriation. Once again, it was clear that it is important for bishops to be able to pool their experiences and pastoral problems in an atmosphere of collegiality and brotherhood. Bishop Grab thanked Archbishop Stanislao Hocevar sincerely for organising the meeting and for giving such an enthusiastic welcome to the CCEE's project.> The fifth Meeting will be in 2005 in Sarajevo. (Fides Service 24/2/2004 EM lines 52 Words: 679)