Catholic Church approves three new dioceses in Slovenia


Slovenia received an early Easter gift this year from the Vatican, when Pope Benedict approved plans for three new dioceses in the small Catholic country. Michael Manske sat down with one of the country's new bishops to talk about the new changes to the Slovenian Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI
New dioceses don't appear too often -- especially in Slovenia. The small Alpine country's first diocese appeared in the city of Maribor in 1228, the second, in Ljubljana, came more than two centuries after that. Then, after half a millennium of silence, a third was added in the coastal city of Koper.

And so it was a serious shake-up of the church when Pope Benedict recently allowed the number to double. The three new additions will be in the central city of Celje, the town of Novo Mesto, and the eastern town of Murska Sobota. The three will be carved out of the existing dioceses and will go active soon.

I sat down to talk with the church's leading intellectual and ideologue, Anton Stres, who has been appointed as the new bishop of Celje.

"Slovenia is a small country and if we compare Slovenia with other nations, there could just as easily be only one diocese. Especially if we look at Milan, or Sao Paolo, which has 10 million people and one diocese. If we look at it this way, then we don't need any more. But then, on the other hand, you have a country like Ireland that is 50% bigger and has less than twice the population of Slovenia, with 3.5 million people, and it has 26 dioceses. Italy has many dioceses and so does the Dalmatian region of Croatia. So, it's all relative."

The Slovenian newspaper lauded the new appointments, calling the group the "perfect ten".

The Celje diocese was carved out of the southern parts of the Maribor diocese, taking about 35 percent of its population. I asked Bishop Stres what his plans were when he arrived there.

"My first priority will be to 'activate' people. When I walk around and talk to people and suggest something or ask what they're thinking, I see that there is a lot of unused energy among people. I want to awaken this feeling, to fan this little flame so that it starts to burn more brightly."

The reorganization of the church is already underway. The new changes are expected to go into effect soon.