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Brief history of Belgrade Archdiocese

As a diocese, Belgrade was first mentioned in the fourth century, when the following dioceses existed on the territory of Serbia: Semendrija (Smederevo), Viminacium (Kostolac), Naissus (Niš), Ramesijana (Bela Palanka), which were under the jurisdiction of the Mitropolitain of Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica). Under the Mitropolitan of Sirmium at that time there were the provinces of Pannonia, Dalmatia, Moesia (today’s Serbia and Bulgaria), Dacia (modern Montenegro), and Prevaltanija Dardania (today’s Kosovo and Metohija and Macedonia) and Macedonia (today’s northern Greece).

In the V century, due to the flood of barbarian tribes, administrative and ecclesiastical seat of the prefecture of Illyricum, which was made up of the mentioned provinces, were moved from Sirmium to Thessaloniki. At the beginning of the VII century, Thessaloniki was a papal vicariate. In ecclesiastical terms, this prefecture came within the jurisdiction of Rome until the middle of the VIII century.

Because of the arrival of Slavs and Avars in the VII century, both Byzantine administrative and ecclesiastical authorities were destroyed in the Balkans.

During the VIII and IX century, Roman and Byzantine missionaries acted among Slavs. At the time, the Christianisation of Serbs and Bulgarians by the Patriarchate of Constantinople began. Between the VII and XII century, the Balkans will fight Byzantium, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Vatican archives there is information about the existence of the Diocese of Belgrade during the rule of the Bulgarians over Belgrade in the X century. After the Great Schism of 1054, Catholic diocese and Orthodox diocese, that was under the jurisdiction of the Ohrid Archbishopric, existed alongside.

Since the end of the XII century, Belgrade Diocese was under the jurisdiction of the Kalocsa archbishop. Kalocsa was the center of church administration in Hungary.

By the XV century the territory of the Diocese included: Mačva, where several parishes existed, Belgrade, Smederevo and Golubac.

The organization chart of the Belgrade Archdiocese from 1935 reveals that the time intervals of bishops’ services in the period from IV to XVII century were long. If we take into consideration that Belgrade was often destroyed in the Middle Ages, we can conclude that the bishops in uncertain times retreated to Hungary and carried out their function from there so that they could be called titular bishops.

In the 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 in which Saxon miners lived, as well as  Dubrovnik, Dalmatian, Venetian and other Italian merchants.

Jurisdiction over the Catholic population in Serbia was conducted by the Archbishop of Bar, bearing the title “Primus of Serbia”. In the XV century, this title belonged to the bishop of Kotor and at the time of Turkish rule it was assumed by the Bishop of Dubrovnik. Today “Primus of Serbia” is part of the style of the Archbishop of Bar.

There are sources which say that there were two churches and a Franciscan monastery in Belgrade in the XV and XVI century. During the Ottoman rule, similar to other parts of the “Turkish Europe”, dioceses had not been officially abolished, but the bishops had not acted in their home dioceses, but in neighboring Hungary, and later in the Habsburg monarchy. Instead of the bishops, the apostolic administrators exercised the pastoral responsibility.

During Austrian rule over today’s central Serbia – from 1687 to 1699 and from 1718 to 1739 –  the Diocese of Belgrade was re-established, and between 1720 and 1739 it bore the name of  Belgrade-Smederevo Diocese.

Beginning from 1739, there are only titular bishops and apostolic administrators, and this lasted until 1924.

In 1851, Pope Pius IX appointed Đakovo Bishop Josip Juraj Štrosmajer the Apostolic Vicar for the whole of the Principality, i.e. the Kingdom of Serbia, where 10,000 Catholics lived. However, there was a conflict between Štrosmajer and the Austro-Hungarian authorities about appointing priests and building churches. With the development of economic ties between Serbia and Austria-Hungary and the construction of the railway Belgrade-Niš-Vranje in the 1880s, experts and workers who were Catholic, mostly Germans, French and Italians come to Serbia.

In 1883 Štrosmajer sent father Tondini to Serbia. He served in Kragujevac, where  600 Catholics were employed in a factory. Besides father Tondini, pastoral duties were performed by father Marbo. The following year, 1884, Tondini blessed the 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 the proof of this there are reports of priests who tell us about their helpfulness and generosity of King Milan.

In addition to pastoral work, father Tondini prepared the ground for the conclusion of a concordat between Serbia and the Holy See. However, the Austro-Hungarian Empire opposed  this, because it wanted  Serbia to depend on it ecclesiastically too. At the request of the 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 the building of the Austro-Hungarian mission.

In 1914, Concordat was signed between the Kingdom of Serbia and the Holy See according to which the Archdiocese of Belgrade was established. Suffragan Diocese of Skopje fell under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese. The first Archbishop Rafael Rodić, came to 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 the current Archbishop Stanislav Hočevar, who was appointed the Archbishop of Belgrade on 31 March 2001.

The area of today’s Archdiocese is about 50,000 km2, covers the whole of Serbia without Vojvodina and Sandžak, and has about 40,000 believers.

Pope John Paul II formed the Belgrade Metropolitan in 1986, which includes Roman Catholic 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 and the apostolic administrator of Belgrade, who was also the president of BC.

The Bishops’ Conference in its current form was formed 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 the parishes in Valjevo, Šabac, Bor, Zaječar, Niš, Kraljevo, Kragujevac, Kruševac, Smederevo and Ravna Reka. Within Kragujevac parish is the chapel in Kruševac, and within Ravna Reka chapels in Užice and Vrnjačka Banja.

In addition to the diocesan priests, monks of the following religious communities operate in the Archdiocese of Belgrade: Franciscan Province of Bosnia Srebrena, Congregation of the Mission of the Slovenian Province, Croatian Jesuits of the Slovenian Province and Salesians of the Salesian Province. There are also nuns: Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Charity, Jesus’ Little Sisters and community of Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.

Two lay movements operate in the Archdiocese as well: Focolare Movement and the Neocatechumenal Way.