Serbs mourn their patriarch

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2009 11:36 AM

Thousands of people waited on long lines Monday to pay their respects to the late Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle at a church in Belgrade.

Pavle's body remained on display in an open coffin at the main Saborna Church. He was known for his personal humility and modesty since taking over the church in 1990.

The 95-year-old died on Sunday after being hospitalized with heart and lung problems for two years.

Pavle led the 7-million member church through its post-Communist revival and during the bloody ethnic conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s. He called for peace and conciliation during the wars, but failed to openly condemn extreme Serb nationalism of former President Slobodan Milosevic, which has triggered the wars against Catholic Croats and Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims in the 1990s.

There have been reports of an internal struggle over who would succeed Pavle. The election cannot be held within 40 days of Pavle's death. The favorite is influential Bishop Amfilohije, a hard-liner known for his anti-Western and ultranationalist stances.

"Patriarch Pavle enjoyed respect among Orthodox believers and advocated inter-religious dialogue," the head of the Islamic Community in Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, said Monday. "We hope the Serb Orthodox Church will continue the tradition of Patriarch Pavle for the benefit of all people of good will who are sharing a common history, and a common hope for a better future in our region."

Croatian President Stipe Mesic sent a letter of condolences to the Serbian Orthodox church on Monday, saying he was "saddened" by Pavle's death. As a man born in Croatia, Pavle "especially cared" for the spiritual good of the Orthodox believers in Croatia, Mesic said.

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Pavle was laying in state at Saborna Church, across the street from the headquarters of the Serb Orthodox church in Belgrade

People filed past the coffin in a steady stream, many pausing to kiss his portrait, his bible, or the cross he was holding in his hand.

"He was a walking saint," said Marina Jovanovic, a housewife who waited for hours to get into the church and walk past Pavle's casket. "Serbia will sorely miss him."

The flags on government buildings were flying at half staff Monday. The government has proclaimed three days of mourning. Bells have been tolling since the news of Pavle's death.

Pavle's funeral will be held Thursday at a monastery in a Belgrade suburb.