Vatican launches wake for Balkans

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The Independent Online
ROME - The Pope and representatives of other churches and religions will watch, fast and pray for peace in the Balkans and all Europe this weekend, writes Patricia Clough. But what could have been a great ecumenical event in Assisi, St Francis' birthplace, will be marred: most Orthodox and Jewish leaders will stay away.

The Pope has taken up the sufferings of the Muslims and Catholics of Bosnia with passion and urgency. The Bishop of Assisi, Mgr Sergio Goretti, said when the Pope told him of his plans for the prayer-wake: 'He said he was in a hurry because he could not watch innocent people in ex-Yugoslavia dying amid the basic indifference of the world.'

It may have been on account of the 'hurry' but today is a curious date to fix, as it comes close to the Orthodox Christmas and coincides with the Jewish Sabbath.

One noticeable absentee will be Patriarch Pavle of Belgrade, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church. He cited the Christmas festivities and difficulties in travelling but assured the Pope he was not refusing a 'brotherly hand' and would be praying for the war to end. Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is also staying away. Although he too promised prayers there is a whiff of the tension over what the Orthodox consider the Catholic Church's aggressive proselytising in the former Soviet Union, traditionally their preserve, and its open support for the Catholic Croats against the Orthodox Serbs.

Many Muslim leaders will be there but only one main representative of the Jewish faith, although the Jews too have promised to pray in their synagogues throughout Europe.