Macedonia, The Catholic Church in
MACEDONIA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, located in the Balkan Peninsula, is bordered on the north by serbia, on the east by bulgaria, on the south by greece and on the west by albania. A plateau, the region also features heavily forested mountains and enjoys a moderate climate. Three large lakes and the Vardar River provide water to this landlocked region. Natural resources include chromium lead, iron, ore, zinc, tungsten and nickel, while cereals, rice, tobacco and livestock are among Macedonia's agricultural products.
In 1913, following the Balkan War, the Balkans were divided between Greece (Greek Macedonia) and Serbia. The Serbian portion, known as South Serbia until 1947, became a constituent of the Yugoslav Republic under its new name, Macedonia. The region declared its independence in 1991, although conflicts with Greece over its flag, certain Hellenic symbols and the potential for confusion with Greek Macedonia to the south delayed full recognition and membership in the European Community until 1995. Most Macedonians worked as migrant laborers in the economically advanced nations of Germany and Switzerland.
Early History. In 379 the Roman Empire divided Illyricum into east and west. Eastern Illyricum, which includes modern Macedonia, was ruled by the Eastern Roman Empire, where Greek Byzantine culture predominated. It belonged ecclesiastically to the Rome Patriarchate until 732, when Emperor Leo III made it subject to the constantinople Patriarchate. Slavs settled in the region during the 7th and 8th centuries and avoided assimilation with Greek culture. The region would be independent under Czar Samuel (980–1014), but otherwise was almost continually subject to Byzantine, Serbian or Turkish overlords. The centuries of domination by the Ottoman Turks in particular left Macedonian culture unrefined, and the Macedonian people uneducated and lacking a strong sense of ethnic identity. Even in the 20th century Bulgaria claimed Macedonian Slavs were actually Bulgars, while Greece countered that the inhabitants of Aegean Macedonia were ethnic Greeks who happened to speak a Slavic language.
Macedonia received Christianity from its Byzantine neighbors during the 8th and 9th centuries. The disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius were mostly Macedonians. After they were banished from Great Moravia they returned to their homeland and promoted the Slavonic liturgy and culture. One of them, St. Clement of Ohrid (d.916), was consecrated in 893 as the first Slav bishop. After the destruction of the first Bulgarian Empire in 971 the Bulgarian patriarch sought refuge in independent Macedonia and fixed his residence in Ohrid, Czar Samuel's capital. The Byzantine Emperor Basil II Bulgaroktonos defeated Macedonia in 1018 and annexed it to Byzantium, but in 1019 he decreed that Ohrid should remain an autocephalous major archiepiscopate with jurisdiction over the dioceses in the western part of the Balkan peninsula. This status lasted until 1767, when the Turks suppressed and subjected Ohrid to Constantinople. Not until 1958 did the Macedonian Orthodox Church regain autonomous status within the Serbian Patriarchate. In 1859 a movement toward union with the Catholic Church began in Macedonia and soon enrolled about 50,000 people. This led the Holy See in 1883 to erect a vicariate apostolic in Thessalonike.
By the 19th century Bulgars, Serbs and Greeks entered the region, creating an ethnic mix. After Bulgaria's defeat in the Second Balkan War, an anti-Bulgarian campaign began in the region causing Bulgarian schools and churches to close and thousands of Macedonians to flee to Bulgaria. Yugoslavia, which came into being on Dec. 1, 1918, as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, included Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Dalmatia, Montenegro and Voivodina. Between the world wars Macedonian terrorist groups, supported by Bulgaria, fought the Serb-controlled Yugoslav government. While Yugoslavia refused to recognize a Macedonian nation, many Macedonians accepted that country's control. During World War II Bulgaria occupied Macedonia, but their occupation proved little better. After the war communists seized power and in 1946 established the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, let by Josip Broz Tito. Macedonia was the poorest nation in the new federation.
Under Yugoslav Domination. While Yugoslavia promulgated a constitution (Nov. 30, 1946) that guaranteed religious liberty, it concurrently demonstrated its opposition to all religions by openly persecuting them. Leaders from Catholic and Muslim congregations were imprisoned on charges of treason, Catholic and other religious schools were closed, Church property was confiscated and religious associations were suppressed. Fortunately such persecution diminished after the late 1940s as Tito attempted to court favor with Western powers, although they did not cease altogether until the 1980s.
In Macedonia's case, the government's fight against religious faith took a different course, due to Yugoslavia's desire to develop Macedonian nationalism. Several years after taking power, the government recognized Macedonian nationhood by making the region a separate republic with its own parliament. Through this action Yugoslavia
countered claims by Greece and Bulgaria that "Macedonian" was merely a territorial signifier. The government continued to encourage the development of a uniquely Macedonian consciousness through use of the Macedonian language (the first standardized Macedonian grammar was published in 1948). Federal support for Macedonian cultural institutions included funding a university in Skopje.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church. While the Orthodox community at first refused to recognize an independent Macedonian Orthodox Church, in 1958 the Serbian Orthodox hierarchy recognized the Macedonian dioceses by consecrating a Macedonian bishop. The activities of Macedonian Orthodox remained under the authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church until 1967, when the church was proclaimed independent. After that point, the Serbian Orthodox Church discontinued further relations. Aware that a self-governing Macedonian church would enhance the sense of Macedonian ethnicity and nationhood they were attempting to develop, the Yugoslav political authorities in Belgrade awarded the Macedonian Orthodox Church favored status. Without recognition from the Serbian hierarchy, however, the Macedonian church remained isolated from the international Orthodox community. By the late 20th century it had six dioceses in Yugoslavia and two abroad, 225 parishes, 102 monasteries, about 250 priests and about 15 monks, and one school of theology.
Into the 21st Century. In 1990 a democratic party won elections in Macedonia, and the nation gained independence on Sept. 17, 1991, under a new constitution. President Kiro Gligorov was injured in an assassination attempt in 1995, after winning his second election. As violence against ethnic Albanians accelerated in neighboring Kosovo, the Kiro government feared that the significant Albanian population in Macedonia would demand that the country take action. After U.N. troops stepped in, a newer threat emerged: the stress of tending for thousands of Kosovar refugees that was falling on a Macedonian economy weakened by a three-year trade blockade by Greece. Fortunately, nations such as Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran ultimately stepped in to help. In 1999 Boris Trajkovski was elected president,
his primary task was to boost the region's still-sagging economy and deal with a pending border dispute with Serbia.
As a Latin-rite church in an Eastern Orthodox region, Macedonia's Roman Catholic Church continued to be a minority faith, although the Macedonian Church did not have official status under the constitution. By 2000 Catholics in Macedonia lived primarily in or near Skopje; they had 30 parishes tended by 58 secular and two religious priests, while 120 sisters administered educational and medical assistance. Macedonian Catholics shared their diocese with Catholics in Kosovo, and provided much needed assistance in efforts to care for Albanian refugees during Serbian efforts to ethnically cleanse the area of Muslim influences in the late 1990s. During the air strikes by NATO, the region's Catholics aided British troops and international aid agencies in tending to the thousands of Kosovars' forced over the Serbian border into Macedonia. The government encouraged relations between the nation's three major faiths by hosting ecumenical functions on a regular basis.
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