ROME (Mar. 21)
Meeting under the auspices of an interfaith group headed by an American rabbi, Islamic, Serbian Orthodox and Roman Catholic religious leaders from Kosovo have signed a declaration calling for dialogue and negotiation to bring peace to Yugoslavia’s strife-torn region.
Last week’s meeting in vienna, convened by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in New York, marked the first time that the religious leaders had met face to face.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Vienna-born Holocaust survivor who heads the foundation, told those gathered that they had a crucial role to play in helping to bring an end to the interethnic fighting in Kosovo.
“Peace has to be promoted from the top down, but it grows and it is nurtured from the bottom up,” said Schneier.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the participants issued a statement declaring that the bloodshed in Kosovo is not based on religious differences. “We, the emissaries of our faithful, wish to state unequivocally that the war that is now raging in the our homeland, where our people are being killed and maimed, and where our homes and places of worship, and our schools and monuments are barbarously being destroyed, is not a war of religions,” the statement said.
“We state categorically that we are against the killing and destruction, and that we stand for dialogue and negotiation to bring about the peace that God demands of us,” it said.
The religious representatives pledged to take the message back to their followers in Kosovo and to establish an interreligious group to maintain religious dialogue.
Mainly Muslim ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population of Kosovo.
At the same time, the region is also the site of some of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s most important historic and religious sites, including a number of centuries-old monasteries.
Attempts by Kosovar Albanians to secure independence have been met by a strong response from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has used nationalist sentiment among the nation’s Serbian population to fuel the fighting there.