Thousands bid farewell to Patriarch Pavle

Nov. 19, 2009 at 5:18 PM

BELGRADE, Serbia, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Hundreds of thousands of people, including a high-level Vatican delegation, joined a funeral procession for Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle Thursday.

Bishops and high-level clergy in baroque white robes led the funeral procession through downtown Belgrade, the Serbian capital, as Serbian army guardsmen in formal blue uniforms flanked the hearse carrying Pavle's body in an open casket.

State television estimated a half-million people, including some from neighboring Bosnia and Montenegro, attended the funeral procession.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Istanbul, Turkey, the spiritual leader of world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, led a liturgy outside the white marble St. Sava Temple, a large cathedral dedicated to the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Bartholomew described Pavle as a "great spiritual leader," "a true monk" and "a man of endless prayer" who was also "a fighter" who did not back down and was "ready for any sacrifice when needed."

Pavle led the 7 million-member church during its post-Communist revival and the Balkans' bloody ethnic conflicts in the 1990s.

Serbian Broadcasting Corp. said the Vatican's highest delegation, led by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, also attended the funeral, as did dignitaries from Russia, the Czech Republic, Albania and other countries.

Serbian President Boris Tadic thanked the late patriarch "for having been there for us" with a message of responding to "evil" with love.

Pavle, who died over the weekend at age 95 after being hospitalized for two years with heart and lung problems, was buried in a private ceremony at the suburban Rakovica monastery, Serbia's Tanjug news agency reported.

He was buried next to the grave of Patriarch Dimitrije, the first patriarch of the reunified Serbian Orthodox Church, from 1920 until his death in 1930.

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