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Benedict XVI welcomes new Serbian Patriarch

.- Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the election of the new Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church in a letter on January 22.  In it, the Holy Father expressed his prayer that the new leader have the "inner strength to consolidate the unity and spiritual growth of the Serbian Orthodox Church."

The Pope began his letter by praying that the Lord grant the new Patriarch “abundant gifts of grace and wisdom for the fulfillment of (his) high responsibilities in the service of the Church” and the people entrusted to him.

The 80-year-old Irinej Gavrilovica, previously Bishop of Nis, became the 45th Serbian Patriarch when he was enthroned on Saturday in Belgrade in the first act of a two-part ceremony, the second is to take place in Pec, Kosovo.

On his first day as the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church he reaffirmed the Church's rejection of a divided Serbia and Kosovo.

Serbia and Kosovo have been at odds since the latter declared independence in 2008.

According to a BBC report, upon his installment he said "Our first duty as a Church is to safeguard our Kosovo, a holy and martyred land, to help our state to defend it from those who wish to seize it."

"Kosovo is our holy land, our Jerusalem."

He asked if they would be allowed to visit the relics of the Church as they completed the ceremony in Pec.

"Without them, Serbia is not Serbia, without Kosovo it is deprived of its heart and soul."

In his letter, the Pope remembered fondly the previous leader of the Serbian Church, Patriarch Pavle, whom he called "a great pastor and spiritual father," in maintaining the unity of the Church and making "many gestures of openness to the Catholic Church."

Patriarch Pavle had died in November of 2009 at the age of 95.

The Pope finished his message to the new Patriarch with a prayer "that the Lord will grant Your Holiness the inner strength to consolidate the unity and spiritual growth of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as to build up the fraternal bonds with other Churches and ecclesial communities."

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