BELGRADE, Serbia, NOV. 25, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is mourning with the Serbian Orthodox Church the recent death of its leader, His Beatitude Pavle, the archbishop of Pec, metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovci.
The Pope sent a message of sympathy on the occasion of last week’s funeral, which drew some 200,000 people to the cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade.
Among those attending were Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and the Pontiff’s representative, and the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I.
The cardinal brought the Holy Father’s message to Archbishop Amfilohije Radovic, metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, who is serving as Guardian of the Throne for the Serbian Orthodox Church until a new patriarch is chosen.
In the message, Benedict XVI expressed his “heartfelt sympathy,” affirming his “union in prayer with those who mourn their father and pastor.”
He added that “in a long life at the service of the Gospel, the deceased patriarch gave witness of faith and spiritual fortitude including in particularly difficult moments, characterized by conflicts and wars.”
The Pontiff offered a prayer that “his example might be of consolation for the hearts of his faithful and for so many other persons of good will, that, encouraged by his perseverance” will commit themselves “to live fully the Christian faith and serve with zeal the great cause of reconciliation and peace.”
The Pope recalled “with gratitude the generous and warm welcome” that Patriarch Pavle offered all the members of the International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church as a whole during the plenary assembly of Sept. 2006, held in Belgrade.
Benedict XVI continued: “There have been many other gestures of fraternity with the Catholic Church and meetings between Catholics and Orthodox that have taken place with his blessing. May the sorrow for the loss of Patriarch Pavle transform into sure hope of his ‘birth to Heaven’ and his memory continue to inspire the strong spiritual growth of the people which he served with selflessness and generosity.
“May his memory also be an invitation to all to continue on the path of dialogue and the search for full communion between all the disciples of Christ.”
The patriarch, who was baptized Gojko Stojcevic, was born in 1914 in the village of Kucanci, near Donji Miholjac in present-day Croatia. He took the name Pavle (Paul) on entering the monastery after World War II.
In 1957, he was elected bishop of Ras and Prizren, which includes Kosovo, a mission he carried out for 33 years until he was elected patriarch in 1990.
His election happened around the same time as the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia amid the Yugoslav Wars. Patriarch Pavle attempted to keep the Serbian Church away from political struggles and raised his voice in support of dialogue as the solution of problems.
The patriarch’s health had been worsening over the past two years. He died Nov. 15 at the age of 95.