Kosovo Crisis


Catholic parish priests and men and women religious of Kosovo have decided to stay in their country despite the expulsion of their inhabitants by Serbian police and paramilitaries. The Zenit news agency reports the decision is a testimony of their faith and love for Kosovo, which could cost them their lives.
    The Catholic churches in Kosovo have become refugee centers. Many Albanian children, both Catholic and Moslem, have found refuge around the altars.
    Father Shan Zefi, episcopal chancellor of the Prizren diocese, has been forced to stay in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, even though every day he tries to go to Kosovo, "to meet Bishop Marko Sopi, who is alive." "Three days ago we learned that the parish of the Virgin of Good Counsel of Selo Grazhda in Suva Reka has become the refuge of 500 people. Now we have lost contact with them, and the only news we have of our priests and Sisters is what we were told by refugees who have arrived in Macedonia."
    Father Zefi appeals to the international community: "Open a humanitarian corridor in Kosovo as soon as possible. Otherwise many people will starve to death; some are already dying in the mountains."
    Even by force? "There is no other alternative: it is a matter of life and death. It is imperative to go into Kosovo to help the hundreds of thousands of unfortunate people who cannot endure anymore; who live in terror."
    In southern Yugoslavia, there are 37 priests and 70 Sisters living under the NATO bombs and the ethnic cleansing. All have to survive although they are virtually abandoned. Not only are they helping Catholics, they "also help the Moslems." Before the war, there were about 65,000 Catholics in Kosovo. No one knows how many remain, not even Father Zefi, who visits the refugee camps every day. They have also been victims of ethnic cleansing. One hundred Catholic refugees have been taken to Croatia and just about as many to Austria. Father Zefi wants to send other refugees abroad, and he is asking for help from countries and communities willing to receive them.
    The contact with some parishes, such as Pec, was interrupted just after Easter. "On Palm Sunday we received the last news by telephone: when Mass was over, 250 faithful who were leaving the church were deported by the Serbs. Now we fear that after 2000 years of history, there will not be a single Catholic left in Kosovo."
    All have been expelled, and the cities burnt. "There is nothing left there, except fire and ruins. There is virtually no life," Father Zefi said. Those who are there are the religious who made the conscious decision to remain with the agreement of Bishop Sopi. Even elderly Father Jake Prenku has decided to stay in his parish of Kosovska Mitrovica. Until now, he had always lived from the people's charity. And, if before the war his daily meal consisted of potato and onion soup, now that his two hundred parishioners have been expelled, we are wondering how he will survive."
    "Father Nosh Giolaj, the parish priest of Pristina, where the situation is worse, is locked in his house with Sisters and some sick people. Up until now, we have received no news about their suffering any violence,"

12:21pm 20/4/99 / Zenit


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