22 May 2008 Belgrade _ The Serb Orthodox Church has agreed to continue working with the UN in Kosovo to restore damaged churches but faces opposition from a local bishop.
More than thirty Serbian Orthodox Churches were damaged during the inter-ethnic clashes which engulfed Kosovo in March 2004.
Kosovo’s authorities condemned the violence and began to prepare for their restoration in a plan led by the United Nations, Kosovo’s Culture Ministry, the Serbian Orthodox Church, and experts from Belgrade’s Institution for the Protection of Monuments.
However the plans were held up several times by local Kosovo Orthodox bishop Artemije’s decision not to allow ethnic Albanians to take part in the programme.
Now the top authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade, the Assembly of all bishops, agreed to renew the reconstruction process in cooperation with the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK.
“With the intention to accept and bless renewed temples, the Assembly believes this will encourage Serbian people to remain or come back to its ancient heartland,” the statement said.
However a church source who wanted to stay anonymous told Balkan Insight that Bishop Artemije may continue to hamper the work.
“Artemije has obstructed and stopped the rebuilding commission several times before, and now, when Kosovo has proclaimed its independence it is more likely he will not obey the decision from Belgrade,” the source said.
Bishop Artemije, who is in charge of Kosovo diocese, is known for his hardline statements in rejecting cooperation with the international community and Kosovo Albanian authorities, especially after the March 2004 riots.
After Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February he banned his clergy from any contact with any people from countries which have recognised Kosovo.
He protests the “illegal independence proclamation of this Serbian province” and issues “words of gratitude to all those who didn’t recognise this lawless act.”
For the first time the Serbian Church Assembly was not led by 93-year old Patriarch Pavle, who has been in special medical care since November 2007.
Despite illness, he rejected the other bishops’ pleas to abandon the Church’s top post.
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