FROM A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT TWO conferences on the worship of Our Lady have been taking place consecutively in Zagreb, Yugoslavia — the first of their kind ever held in a Communist country. Catholic observers believe that they will have helped to speed the ecumenical movement between the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches.
The first conference, held in the theological college in predominantly Catholic Zagreb from August 6 to 12, was the 6th Mariological Congress of the Catholic Church, a purely scientific meeting convened to discuss the worship of the Mother of God from the 6th to the 11th centuries.
Attended by a sprinkling of Orthodox and Protestants, it was followed immediately by the 13th Marian Congress, due to end on Sunday, discussing popular veneration of the Virgin Mary.
It was emphasised by speakers at the Mariological Congress that before the I Ith century, when the schism between Fast and West occurred, the whole Church venerated Our Lady, and both sides continued doing so after the break
Other speakers pointed out that in fact veneration of Mary actually started in the East, very early in the Church's history, and was gradually followed in the West.
RARE DIALOGUE Speaking on the first day of the Congress, French Catholic theologian Rene Laurentin said: "I wish that we jointly, the East and the West, could return to joint sources and common points which we had at the time when the Church was one and united.
"The ecumenical dialogue has begun between Catholics and Protestants", he said. "A dialogue with the Orthodox Church is rather rare, although we are theoretically closer to them."
M. Laurentin called this the paradox of the ecumenical movement and urged a threeway dialogue — between Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox—to repair the schism that divided Christianity in 1054.
More than 100 Catholic theologians from 22 countries, and a number of theoreticians from Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches were at the Mariological Congress.
They were told by Mgr. Tomislav Jablanovic, Auxiliary Bishop of Sarajevo, that veneration of Mary and Jesus was also strong among believers of the Islamic Faith, which originated in the 6th century, and had developed a considerable theology by the 11th.
The bishop said that out of 20 million Yugoslays about 12 per cent were Moslems, 50 per cent Orthodox. and 35 per cent Catholics.
The congress had the blessing of the local Communist authorities, and was welcomed by the deputy mayor of Zagreb. The discussions were officially opened by Fr. Karlo Balic, 72, a Yugoslav-born priest who is now the president of the International Marian Pontifical Academy in Rome.
POPE'S ENVOY He said he had organised many congresses throughout the world, but before his death he had wanted to arrange one in his native Croatia, in Zagreb. Excellent ChurchState relations in Yugoslavia, particularly since President Tito's visit to the Vatican, had enabled this wish to be fulfilled.
Last Sunday Dimitrije Dimi trijevic, Professor of the Ser.bian Orthodox Church Faculty of Theology in Belgrade, delivered a report on "Development of the Cult of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Church after the Ephesos Council."
He said that it was at this Council in Ephesus in the south-west of today's Turkey in the year 431, that the Church —at that time united—decided that Mary should he respected as the Mother of God. Eastern poets who lived in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries wrote about the Virgin who gave birth to God.
It had been hoped that Pope Paul would attend at least one session of either the Mariological Congress Or the following International Marian Congress.
The Pope, however, appointed Cardinal Franjo Seper as his special representative at both congresses, which made it virtually certain that he would not attend in person. Cardinal Seper was Archbishop of Zagreb from 1960 until 1968, when he was appointed to head a Vatican department—the first Cardinal from Eastern Europe to gain such an appointment.