The new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church on Thursday urged dialogue to overcome long-standing divisions with Roman Catholics.
Patriarch Irinej said that a 2013 anniversary important to Christians would be a “good opportunity … to meet and talk.”
He added that “with God’s help this (dialogue) would continue to overcome what had happened in history and take a new, Christian road.”
The year 2013 marks 1700 years since Roman emperor Constantine the Great signed the Edict of Milan to establish religious tolerance for Christians.
Serbia’s patriarch has suggested that the ceremony to mark the anniversary could be held in the Serbian city of Nis, emperor Constantine’s birthplace, and include Pope Benedict XVI as well as key Orthodox Christian leaders.
That would be the first ever visit by a pope to Serbia, a rare European country not visited by the Roman Catholic Pope.
The Serbian Orthodox Church had opposed the visit in the past because of the schism between the two churches, but also over the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which pitted Serbs against Croats, who are mostly Roman Catholics.
Irinej acknowledged that the war period “was not the right moment (for the papal visit) and we decided to postpone it for more peaceful times.” He added, however, that no concrete arrangements for the visit have been made so far.
The 80-year-old Irinej was elected last week to become the 45th Serbian patriarch. He is considered to be a moderate in the influential church which is viewed as hardline conservative.
Irinej has retained firm opposition to the Western-backed opposition in Kosovo, the historic heartland of the Serbian church which split in 2008. He said Thursday that “Kosovo is soaked with Serbian blood” and “belongs to us.”