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Saturday, February 20, 2010

EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Catherine Ashton visits Visoki Dečani Monastery

Today (February 19) His Grace Vicar Bishop Teodosije of Lipljan, together with protosingel Sava (Janjić) and hieromonk Andrej (Sejc), received the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Catherine Ashton in the monastery of Visoki Dečani. Lady Ashton was accompanied by Yves de Kermabon (head of EULEX), Pierre Mirel, European Commission Director for Western Balkans), Robert Cooper (Director-General for External and Politico-Military Affairs in the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU), Dimitris Moschopoulos (head of the Greek office in Priština and the newly appointed special adviser to the EU for Serbian cultural heritage in Kosovo) and their associates.

Bishop Teodosije welcomed Madam Ashton to the monastery, which, he said, is one of the most important Serbian Orthodox holy shrines in Kosovo and Metohija, along with the Patriarchate of Peć, the historic see of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Gračanica and the holy shrines of Prizren. "The protection of human and religious rights of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija is certainly one of the most important priorities of the Serbian Orthodox Church in this region and we hope that conditions will be created for the return of a large number of displaced Serbs," said the Bishop, adding that "our people in the enclaves still live under very difficult circumstances and better conditions must be created for their life and future".

He stressed that "the Church is particularly concerned about the issue of the protection of her holy shrines and monuments of Serbian culture in Kosovo and Metohija, and that he is happy the European Union has appointed a Special Advisor for issues of Serbian cultural heritage, Mr. Moschopoulos, who during his stay in Kosovo so far as the head of the Greek office has established very good contacts with representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church". Bishop Teodosije expressed the hope that in the future the EU will continue to make a contribution to the protection of the interests of the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church, noting that the issue of protecting the names and identity of Serbian heritage as well as the property rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church is particularly important.

"The existing serious political questions must be resolved through the dialogue of relevant political factors, but the Church is also willing to give its contribution by working to build bridges of trust and reconciliation among ethnic and religious communities in Kosovo and Metohija, carrying out its centuries-old mission of witnessing the truth of Christ," stressed the Bishop. Bishop Teodosije also mentioned the issue of the security of the monastery, emphasizing the need to keep the most important Serbian holy shrines that are guarded by KFOR under the protection of international peacekeeping forces because "the political situation is still very delicate."

Madam Ashton expressed her admiration for the beauty of the monastery and stressed the great importance of preserving the Orthodox shrines in Kosovo and Metohija, in which the newly appointed Special Adviser on affairs of Serbian cultural and religious heritage, Mr. Moschopoulos, will provide a special contribution. "In the EU you have many friends who recognize and respect your vision for the future of the Western Balkans in which all peoples will live in peace and mutual respect. We are ready to do everything to help to realize that vision for the benefit of all," Madam Ashton concluded, adding that she is very happy and privileged to have visited such an important and beautiful place, which must be preserved for future generations.

At the end of their one-hour visit to Visoki Dečani Monastery Catherine Ashton visited the Dečani church and learned about the monastery’s centuries-old history.