VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 13, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II fondly recalled his exchanges of letters and meetings with Orthodox Patriarch Petros VII of Alexandria, who died Saturday in a helicopter accident near Mount Athos.
In a message of sympathy addressed to the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Pope also recalled the patriarch’s contribution to the promotion of Christian unity.
The helicopter in which the 55-year-old Petros was traveling — together with Metropolitans Irinaios of Pelusium and Chrysostomos of Karthagena, Bishop Nektarios of Madagascar, the patriarchal vicars of Athens and Cyprus, and several associates and family members — crashed some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the peninsula in northern Greece that houses the famous Orthodox monasteries.
The accident is under investigation.
“The tragic death of Patriarch Petros VII,” reads the telegram sent by the Pope, “is a source of great sorrow and grief for the Orthodox Sister Churches of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, for the Bishop of Rome and in the Catholic Church, and for all those who esteemed the late Patriarch’s ministry to the Church in Africa and his commitment to Christian unity.”
“I myself recall with gratitude our fraternal exchanges of letters, our spiritual closeness, the participation of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria on significant events like the ‘World Day of Prayer for World Peace’ in Assisi in 2002, and his constructive contribution to theological dialogue in the Orthodox Churches as a whole and with the International Mixed Commission,” recalled the Holy Father.
He added: “I pray that the Lord will grant ‘grace upon grace’ to His faithful servant and will welcome him and his earthly traveling companions into the eternal light and peace reserved for God’s righteous ones. At the same time, I beseech the spirit of wisdom to guide and sustain the Patriarchate of Alexandria at this time of sadness.”
A native of Cyprus, Petros had been elected in 1997 to the Patriarchal See of Alexandria, considered in the Orthodox Church the second for spiritual authority, after Constantinople.
On Vatican Radio, Gennadios Zervos, metropolitan for Italy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, described the patriarch’s death as “a great loss for the Orthodox Church.”
“He admired the messages of His Holiness John Paul II and his efforts to attain Christian unity. He was a great apostle of Christian unity,” said the metropolitan.
“In particular, he was a charitable man,” Metropolitan Zervos said. “He established many schools, hospitals and homes and assistance for the elderly. He did much from the point of view of social love.”