Pontiff Greets New Serbian Orthodox Leader

Assures Patriarch Irinej of His Prayers

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is sending his prayers and best wishes to the new leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, the archbishop of Pec, metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci.

In a message sent Friday, the Pope stated, «I was glad to learn of your election as patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church and I pray that the Lord may grant you abundant gifts of grace and wisdom for the fulfillment of your high responsibilities in the service of the Church and the people entrusted to you.»

«You succeed Patriarch Pavle,» the Pontiff acknowledged, «our brother of happy memory, who was a pastor both fervent and esteemed, and who bequeathed to you a spiritual inheritance that is rich and profound.»

Patriarch Pavle died Nov. 15 at the age of 95.

«As a great pastor and spiritual father, he effectively guided the Church and maintained its unity in the face of many challenges,» Benedict XVI noted.

He added, «I feel bound to express my appreciation of his example of fidelity to the Lord and of his many gestures of openness towards the Catholic Church.»

The Pope continued: «I therefore pray that the Lord will grant Your Holiness the inner strength to consolidate the unity and spiritual growth of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as to build up the fraternal bonds with other Churches and ecclesial communities.

«Let me assure you of the closeness of the Catholic Church and of her commitment to the promotion of fraternal relations and theological dialogue, in order that those obstacles which still impede full communion between us may be overcome.»

The Pontiff ended with a prayer that the Lord would «bless our common efforts in this regard, so that the disciples of Christ may again be united witnesses before the whole world to his salvific love.»

Patriarch Irinej, 79, was elected on Friday as the 45th head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and was enthroned the next day. He had been serving as bishop of Niš since 1975.

The patriarch was quoted as saying that he would be open to a visit by the Pope to Serbia in 2013 on the occasion of the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine, who was born in Niš.

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