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1999 NCC News Archives

U.S. Religious Leaders Meet Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle
Group, Led by Joan Campbell and Jesse Jackson, Hopes to See Captured U.S. Soldiers Today

April 30, 1999, BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The Serbian Orthodox Patriarch this morning warmly welcomed a delegation of U.S. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders to Belgrade, and expressed his great appreciation for their humanitarian mission, which is expected to include a meeting later today with the three captured U.S. soldiers.

The delegation arrived in Belgrade Thursday night, and is led by the Rev. Dr. Joan B. Campbell, General Secretary of the (U.S.) National Council of Churches, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Founder and President of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. The group’s first acts Friday included signing the three Bibles that are to be presented to the U.S. servicemen.

The meeting with His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Pavle, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was "quite cordial, with an interesting sense of history as well as currency," reported the Rev. Roy Lloyd, Broadcast News Director for the National Council of Churches who is traveling with the religious mission. "We met in an ancient place with such history, yet talked about such current problems and things which derive from the new world and from modern technology."

Dr. Campbell expressed concern "for all who are suffering, for Serbs and ethnic Albanians alike." She brought the concerns and prayers of American religious leaders to their counterparts in Yugoslavia. The Rev. Jackson set forth "points for peace," including stopping of all the violence in Kosovo, removing soldiers and having some sort of peacekeeping force to ensure the safety of Serbs and ethnic Albanians alike. He commented how the religious community can provide an alternative in connecting people and perhaps bringing about discussions of peace in a way governments cannot do.

Dr. Campbell noted that the churches maintain relations even when their governments do not. "They understand the pain each other is experiencing," she said. "That’s why this mission to Yugoslavia is so important." The Serbian Patriarch and U.S. religious leaders pledged cooperative work together on peace efforts and on trying to gain the release of the soldiers.

Following the meeting with the Patriarch, the delegation went to view bomb damage, much of it from the night before. Belgrade experienced heavy bombing by NATO forces overnight – and an earthquake.

First, the delegation viewed damage at a monastery for women in a small valley "with, I understand, nothing of strategic significance in the area," the Rev. Lloyd reported. "So it would appear to be an accident. No one was injured but apparently there are still a couple of live bombs in the roof of the monastery."

Next, in central Belgrade, the group saw a home and adjoining restaurant that had been totally destroyed. No one was killed. When the bomb struck around 3:30 a.m. Friday, a young man was thrown from the building’s second story onto a car below, suffering a broken leg.

"Rev. Jackson spoke with woman who’d lived in the house and who detailed the terror she felt when the bomb struck unexpectedly," the Rev. Lloyd reported.

"Dr. Campbell spoke with a woman who lived in the building and was trembling as she held a piece of the bomb in one hand. Dr. Campbell said she was sorry for the anguish all were experiencing and offered a blessing. The people who gathered around, curious to see the damage, were very cordial to the Americans and particularly to the religious leaders," he continued. The delegation also saw the damage done earlier to the TV center – located behind a church with a children’s center immediately adjacent. Some 17 people had died in that place.

"In all this," the Rev. Lloyd said, "the delegation was concerned this not be used as propaganda but nevertheless there was acknowledgement of the damage that had occurred."

As delegation members moved around town, they saw several signs sponsored by the Yugoslav government. One was a take-off on the Nike ad: "Stop the bombing, just do it." Another showed an elaborately decorated egg, an Orthodox symbol of Easter, with the words "Christ is risen" across the top and, across the bottom, "They believe in bombs, we believe in God." Commented the Rev. Lloyd, "We noted the irony of this former communist country doing its signs along that line."

Besides Dr. Campbell and the Rev. Jackson, delegation members are: His Grace Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, Ecumenical Officer, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, New York; the Rev. Fr. Irinej Dobrijevic, Serbian Orthodox Priest, Cleveland, Ohio; Fr. Raymond G. Helmick, S.J., Boston College, Boston, Mass.; Zoran S. Hodjera, President, Saint Luke Serbian Orthodox Church, Washington, D.C.; Rabbi Steven Bennett Jacobs, Los Angeles, Calif. Also, Dr. Nazir Uddin Khaja, M.D., Chairman and President, Board of the American Muslim Council, Los Angeles; the Rt. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer, Orthodox Church in America, Syosset, N.Y.; Bishop Marshall L. Meadors, Jr., Mississippi Area, Southeastern Jurisdiction, United Methodist Church, Jackson, Miss.; the Rev. James Trent Meeks, Pastor, Salem Baptist Church, Chicago, Ill.; and His Grace Rt. Rev. Bishop Kodic Mitrophan, Bishop of Eastern America, Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. and Canada, Sewickley, Pa.

Other participants include Congressman Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., 5th District, Chicago; Landrum R. Bolling, Senior Advisor, Conflict Management Group, and Director at Large, Mercy Corps International, Cambridge, Mass.; Obrad Kesic, Director, Governmental Affairs, IGN Pharmaceuticals, Washington, D.C., and four staff (Rev. Lloyd; Marie Nelson and Yirgalem Tadesse with Rainbow/PUSH, and John Wyma with Cong. Blagojevich).

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