The head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Teoctist, died of a heart attack on Monday at the age of 92. As head of the Romanian Church, Teoctist helped to improve relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
In 1999, at Patriarch Teoctist’s invitation, Pope John Paul II visited Romania and thus became the first Catholic Pope to visit an Orthodox country. This trip helped to bridge the ancient divide between the two Churches and was reciprocated by a 2002 visit to Rome by the Patriarch.
Pope Benedict XVI said in a telegram sent yesterday to the Romanian church that these initiatives “strengthened and gave new impulse to the growing friendship and improving fraternal relations between the Churches.”
He also wrote, “Both men were filled with a determination to write a new page in the history of our communities, overcoming a difficult past which still burdens us today, and looking forward with confidence to the day when the divisions among the followers of Christ will be overcome.”
"Patriarch Teoctist died at 5:00 pm," Constantin Popa, manager of the Fundeni hospital in Bucharest, told Reuters. He was undergoing prostrate surgery when he suffered a heart attack and did not respond to resuscitation efforts.
Teoctist, who was born in 1915, became the head of the Orthodox Church in 1986.
Eighty-seven percent of Romanians belong to the Church.
One of his main projects was to build a "Cathedral of the Nation's Absolution", which like the vast Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, was to be seen as a symbol of rebirth after 50 years of communist repression. However, land and financing problems have delayed its construction.