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Celebration of tolerance in Nis still shows differences which remain in the church

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Edict of Milan, which established toleration for Christianity in the Roman Empire 1,700 years ago was celebrated in special ceremonies this past weekend. Eight Orthodox Christian leaders, dignitaries from other faiths, politicians and thousands of others gathered in the Serbian city of Nis. While it was cause for great celebration, there were signs that the church remains divided - Pope Francis was not present at the liturgy, reflecting centuries-old divisions between the two main Christian denominations, in spite of gestures between both parties towards reconciliation and dialogue.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Catholic Church marked the same anniversary at a mass served in Nis last month by papal envoy Angelo Scola, the Cardinal of Milan.

Located 125 miles south of Belgrade, Nis was selected as the venue for the celebration as emperor Constantine the Great proclaimed religious tolerance, was born in the-then Roman city of Naissus in 272.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was flanked by patriarchs Theophilos of Jerusalem, Kiril of Russia, Irinej of Serbia, and their counterparts from Albania, Cyprus, Poland, Slovakia and other smaller Orthodox churches, as he called in a sermon for more religious freedom and reconciliation.

"Many Christians are being persecuted these days in the Middle East, in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria and other places, only because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus," Bartholomew said.

"They cherish everyone and are persecuted by all ... they live in good (faith) and are being persecuted as villains," he added.

Bartholomew also called for the release of Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi. Both were abducted last April during fighting in the city of Aleppo. The Syrian government has blamed rebel groups, who deny it.

The celebration served to underscore the close ties between the Serbian Orthodox Church and its much larger Russian counterpart. A traditional ally of Serbia, the Kremlin has backed Serbia's refusal to recognize Kosovo, its former southern province populated mainly by ethnic Albanians, which declared independence in 2008.

It's estimated that about 90 percent of Serbians are Orthodox. They recognize Kosovo as the cradle of their medieval civilization.

Serbia has been keen to remain Moscow's strategic ally in the Balkans, but also wants to join the European Union and is expected to start membership talks in January.

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