The Serbian Government has protested to the Vatican over the celebration of a Catholic Mass at the ruins of what Serbia maintains was an Orthodox church at Novo Brdo, in the Pristina district of eastern Kosovo.

Driving the news

Catholic Bishop of Kosovo, Dode Gjergji, and retired Bishop of Bar (Montenegro), Zef Gashi, celebrated a Catholic Mass at Novo Brdo with other priests and faithful on August 1, Albanian Diaspora Day.

Local Catholic authorities presented the location for the Mass as the ruins of the “Catholic church of St. Nicholas” at Novo Brdo, a 14th century fortress.

But the local Serbian Orthodox Church reacted angrily to the celebrations, saying that the ruins belonged to the Orthodox church of St. Nicholas, the seat of the medieval bishops of Lipljan.

The Serbian Orthodox Eparchy of Raška-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija blasted local Catholic authorities for what it said was an “act of abuse of the spiritual and cultural heritage” of the Orthodox Church that “undermines… interfaith relations in Kosovo”.

Go deeper

Serbian Minister of Culture and Information Vladan Vukosavljevic has now taken the Orthodox protest further, as Telegraf reports.

Vukosavljevic attended the Vatican embassy in Belgrade Monday to deliver a letter addressed to Vatican culture “minister” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi expressing the Serbian government’s disapproval of the Mass in Novo Brdo.

According to a note released by the ministry, Vukosavljevic called on Ravasi to take action so that “the Albanian Catholic clergy in the territory of the self-proclaimed state of Kosovo does not unnecessarily provoke tension and desecrate religious and cultural-historical monuments of the Serb people”.

“The rich tradition of Christian culture in the Balkans and in Serbia can and should enable Catholic and Orthodox believers to perform their rituals with dignity in sacred objects that are an expression of their faith and cultural heritage”, Vukosavljevic added, reminding Ravasi that future Masses could take place in the ruins of another historically Catholic church at Novo Brdo.

The intrigue

But Vukosavljevic’s protest immediately raised the ire of Kosovan authorities.

As Kossev reports, Kosovan Deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj shot back with a claim that Serbian authorities were falsifying history by claiming the ruins of St. Nicholas as Orthodox.

Hoxhaj said the “appropriation” of the church at Novo Brdo as Serbian was “ridiculous”.

“Churches, mosques, other objects of Kosovo’s cultural, historical and religious heritage belong to Kosovo and its citizens! The politicization of culture, science, history is a ridiculous and absurd game that Serbia is playing! Kosovo is a fact”, the Kosovan politician added.

Background on Novena:

Catholic-Orthodox tensions boil over in Kosovo


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.