Pope Mourns Death of Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a strong voice for peace and development in Africa, died Aug. 17 in Addis Ababa at the age of 76.

Abune Paulos, as he was known, was also a leader in the worldwide ecumenical movement.

Offering his prayers and condolences to the 40 million members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Pope Benedict XVI recalled the patriarch’s visits to the Vatican and, especially, “the important observations he made” when he addressed the special Synod of Bishops for Africa at the Vatican in 2009.

Pope Benedict had invited the patriarch to be one of the first speakers at the synod.

The patriarch called for all of the continent’s religious leaders to work together “for peace and to protect the natural resources God gave us and defend our children.”

He had said Christianity requires social action, including responding to the HIV pandemic, alleviating poverty and hunger, and stopping violence and the destruction of the environment.

“Social work is the meaning of apostleship. Apostleship is the root of a real and compassionate social work,” the patriarch told the synod.

In his condolence message to the bishops of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Pope Benedict also expressed gratitude for the patriarch’s “firm commitment” to promoting Christian unity and closer ties with the Catholic Church.

Abune Paulos was one of eight presidents of the World Council of Churches and served as a member of its Faith and Order Commission, the body that deals most closely with theological issues.

After his ordination as a priest, he studied at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., and began his doctoral studies at the Princeton Theology Seminary, but was called back to Ethiopia. Imprisoned for several years by Ethiopia’s communist regime, he was released in 1983 and returned to Princeton the next year to finish his studies. He was elected patriarch in 1992.

Father Hailegebriel Meleku, deputy secretary- general of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, told Vatican Radio Aug. 17 that the patriarch was an important figure in Ethiopia, not just as the “spiritual father of the Orthodox, but for the whole Ethiopian people. His death leaves a great void for the Orthodox religious community, for the Muslim community, for the Catholic Church and other religions.”

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