Brief history of Belgrade Archdiocese
As a diocese, Belgrade was first mentioned in the fourth century, when the following dioceses existed on territory of Serbia: Semendrija (Smederevo), Viminacium (Kostolac), Naissus (Niš), Ramesijana (Bela Palanka), which were under jurisdiction of the Mitropolitanate of Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica). The provinces of Pannonia, Dalmatia, Moesia (today’s Serbia and Bulgaria), Dacia (today’s Montenegro), Dardania and Prevalitanija (today’s Kosovo and Metohija and Macedonia) and Macedonia (today’s northern Greece) also belonged to the Mitropolitanate of Sirmium.
Due to flood of barbarian tribes, administrative and ecclesiastical head office of prefecture of Illyricum, which consisted of the above mentioned provinces, was moved from Sirmium to Thessaloniki in the 5th century. At the beginning of the 7th century, Thessaloniki was a papal vicariate too. In ecclesiastical terms, this prefecture was within Rome’s jurisdiction until the middle of the 8th century.
Due to Slavs and Avars’ arrival in the 7th century, both Byzantine administrative and ecclesiastical authorities were destroyed in the Balkans.
During the 8th and 9th century, Roman and Byzantine missionaries acted among Slavs. At the time, the Patriarchate of Constantinople began christianization of Serbs and Bulgarians. Byzantium, Bulgaria and Hungary fought for the Balkans between 7th and 9th century. There is information in Vatican’s archive about existence of the Diocese of Belgrade during Bulgarians’ rule over Belgrade in the 10th century. After the Great Schism in 1054, Catholic diocese and Orthodox eparchy, that was under jurisdiction of Ohrid Archbishopric, existed alongside.
Belgrade Diocese was under jurisdiction of archbishop of Kalocsa since the end of the 12th century. Kalocsa was the center of church administration in Hungary.
By the 15th century, territory of the Diocese consisted of: Mačva, where several parishes existed, Belgrade, Smederevo and Golubac.
Organization chart of the Belgrade Archdiocese from 1935 reveals that time intervals of bishops’ services in period from 4th to 17th century were long. If we take into consideration that Belgrade was often destroyed in the Middle Ages, we can conclude that bishops retreated to Hungary in uncertain times and carried out their function from there so that they could be called titular bishops.
In medieval Serbian state, there were many Roman Catholic parishes. Valjevo, Crnča, Plana, Kovači, Livađa, Zaplanje, Koporići, Ostraće, Belasica, Brvenik, Gradac, Rogozno, Novi Pazar, Pljevlja, Prokuplje, Brskovo, Rudnik, Novo Brdo, Janjevo, Priština, Trepča, Prizren, Peć and Skopje – which were mining and trading towns where Saxon miners lived, as well as Dalmatian, Venetian, miners from Dubrovnik and other Italian merchants.
Jurisdiction over Catholic population in Serbia was conducted by Archbishop of Bar, bearing the title “Primus of Serbia”. In the 15th century, this title belonged to bishop of Kotor and during Ottoman rule it was assumed by Bishop of Dubrovnik. “Primus of Serbia” is still a part of titularity of Archbishop of Bar.
There are sources which say that there were two churches and a Franciscan monastery in Belgrade in the 15th and 16th century. During Ottoman rule, as in other parts of “Turkish Europe”, dioceses weren’t officially abolished, but bishops didn’t act in their home dioceses, but in neighboring Hungary, and later in Habsburg monarchy. Apostolic administrators conducted pastoral responsibility instead of bishops.
During Austrian rule over today’s central Serbia – from 1687 to 1699 and from 1718 to 1739 – Diocese of Belgrade was re-established, and between 1720 and 1739 it bore the name of Diocese of Belgrade-Smederevo.
There are only titular bishops and apostolic administrators starting from 1739, and this lasted until 1924.
In 1851, Pope Pius IX appointed Bishop of Đakovo ,Josip Juraj Štrosmajer, as an Apostolic Vicar for whole Principality, i.e. the Kingdom of Serbia, where 10,000 Catholics lived. However, there was a conflict between Štrosmajer and Austro-Hungarian authorities regarding appointment of priests and building churches. With the development of economic ties between Serbia and Austria-Hungary and the construction of railway Belgrade-Niš-Vranje in the 1880s, experts and workers who were Catholic, mostly Germans, French and Italians, came to Serbia. In 1883 Štrosmajer sent father Tondini to Serbia who served in Kragujevac, where 600 Catholics were employed in Kragujevac based factory. Besides father Tondini, pastoral duty was performed by father Marbo. In 1884, Tondini blessed a chapel in Niš, which was inhabited by over 1,000 Catholics, and in 1885 he opened a Catholic Church in the same city. Serbian government looked benevolently on this, and as a proof, there are priests’ reports that tell us about their helpfulness and generosity of King Milan.
In addition to pastoral work, father Tondini prepared for conclusion of a concordat between Serbia and the Holy See. However, the Austro-Hungarian Empire opposed this, since it wanted Serbia to depend on their empire ecclesiastically too. At the request of Austro-Hungaria, Tondini left Serbia. There were three parishes in the Kingdom of Serbia at the time: Belgrade, Niš and Kragujevac. The first church was built in 1887 in Niš. At that time, more than 5,000 Catholics lived in Belgrade, but there was only one chapel, and it was in a building of Austro-Hungarian mission.
In 1914, Concordat was signed between the Kingdom of Serbia and the Holy See according to which Archdiocese of Belgrade was established. Suffragan Diocese of Skopje fell under jurisdiction of the Archdiocese. The first Archbishop, Rafael Rodić, took up his service in 1924. After Rafael Rodić, Belgrade archdiocese was led by Josip Ujčić (1936-1964), Gabriel Bukatko (1964-1980), Alojzije Turk (1980-1986), Franc Perko (1986-2001) and now it is led by current Archbishop Stanislav Hočevar, who was appointed as the Archbishop of Belgrade on 31 March 2001.
The area of today’s Archdiocese is about 50,000 km2 and it encompasses whole Serbia without Vojvodina and Sandžak, and has about 40,000 believers.
Pope John Paul II formed the Metropolitanate of Belgrade in 1986, which includes Diocese of Zrenjanin and Subotica.
The Bishops’ Conference of Yugoslavia was formed in 1997, and it consisted of six bishops: Bishops of Zrenjanin, Subotica, Bar, Kotor, Prizren apostolic administrator and apostolic administrator of Belgrade, who is also the president of the very conference.
The Bishops’ Conference in its current form was established in 2001 as the International Bishops’ Conference of Saints Cyril and Methodius, and it consists of the diocese of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
The archdiocese is divided into 16 parishes, six parishes in Belgrade, with parishes in Valjevo, Šabac, Bor, Zaječar, Niš, Kraljevo, Kragujevac, Kruševac, Smederevo and Ravna Reka. There is a chapel in Kruševac within Kragujevac based parish and a chapel in Užice and Vrnjačka Banja within Ravna Reka.
In addition to diocesan priests, monks of the following religious communities operate in the Archdiocese of Belgrade: Franciscan Province of Bosnia Srebrena, Congregation of the Mission of Slovenian Province, Jesuits of Croatian Province and the Salesians of Slovenian Province. There are also nuns: Sisters of Mercy, Daughters of Charity, Little Sisters of Jesus and community of Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.
Two lay movements operate in the Archdiocese as well: the Focolare Movement and the Neocatechumenal Way.