Royals salute church's centennial

Royals salute church's centennial

St. George Serbian Orthodox Church's century celebration Sunday brought together Serbian royalty from Belgrade, Orthodox Christian clergy from across North America and Europe and hundreds of Serbian-Americans and friends.

Following morning worship services at the church, Crown Prince Alexander II and Princess Katherine of Serbia were honored guests at a luncheon at the nearby Halls of St. George in Schererville.

Other dignitaries included Bishop Longin of the Serbian Orthodox Church Midwest, Bishop Peter of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Very Rev. Dobrivoje Milunovic, St. George parish priest.

Children, from preschoolers to high school students, performed traditional Serbian dances dressed in folk costumes accented with brilliantly hued embroidery. Choirs offered a medley of songs and poems during the luncheon celebration, and the Dunav Orchestra also entertained guests.

"We come together to honor the founders of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church and their descendants who have served the immigrants in Northwest Indiana to help them find a new life," Prince Alexander said during the festivities. "We celebrate with you who have persevered in their Serbian faith and heritage."

Founded by Serbian immigrants in East Chicago's Indiana Harbor section in 1911, the church has welcomed large migrations of Serbs who left their homeland to escape war and tyranny for the past century.

Waves of Serbian immigrants continued to come to Northwest Indiana through the 1990s, and have helped the parish grow. The church at 905 E. Joliet St. in Schererville was dedicated in May 1980.

Keeping the traditions of the Serbian homeland alive for current and future generations is the mission of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, said Milan Momcilovich, master of ceremonies for the event.

"When our people came here, they worked hard for their families and thanked God for what little they had," Momcilovich said. "This is to celebrate their dedication to their Serbian heritage."

The royal couple represented that heritage at the luncheon.

Prince Alexander is the son of King Peter II of Yugoslavia who was exiled in 1941. The prince helped bring democracy to the Eastern European nation following decades of communism and the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

In November 1999, the prince convened a large conference in Budapest for representatives of Democratic Opposition in Serbia. Other meetings in Bosnia led to the successful election of Serbia's democratic opposition in September 2000.

The royal couple works to restore their nation and came to the U.S. recently to focus attention on Serbia and its redevelopment, said Princess Katherine.

Prince Alexander has established an educational foundation to create opportunities for Serbian scholars to apply their knowledge to economic and political development in Serbia.

The princess is the official health officer in Serbia, helping to establish better medical facilities there.

"We have the highest infant mortality rate in Europe. Women didn't want to have babies during the war (in the 1990s). They waited so long they were too old and couldn't carry their pregnancies to term," she said prior to the luncheon. "Our hospitals didn't have incubators. Now we are working to provide 40 hospitals with neonatal units."

The royal family, who live in the palace in Belgrade, also works with the country's orphanages, organizing donation drives in the United States and other countries to provide clothing, shoes and toys for thousands of orphans.