.- The 95-year old Patriarch Pavle was laid to rest today in Belgrade, Serbia, after having led the Serbian Orthodox Church through its revival after the fall of the iron curtain and the bloody conflicts in the Balkans during the 1990's.
The Serbian police reported that over 600,000 people attended the funeral service and procession today in Belgrade, said Domradio.de. The funeral was held in St. Sava’s Church in Belgrade, and the patriarch was buried in the Rakovica monastery in a Belgrade suburb seven miles away.
The Catholic Archbishop of Belgrade Stanislav Hocevar attended the funeral, as well as Cardinal Angelo Sodano who was appointed to be the Pope's representative at the funeral. Also in attendance was the apostolic nuncio in Serbia Orlando Antonini as well as Father Milan Zust from the Secretariat of the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, reported Radio Srbija.
The Pope also sent a telegram expressing his condolences to the Metropolitan of Montenegro, via his representative Cardinal Sodano. Though Pope Benedict's meeting last Saturday expressed hope for an increased dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church, Serbia remains one of the few European countries to never have received a Papal Visit, said the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Patriarch Pavle is famed for his defense of Kosovo, which is esteemed as the epicenter of Serbian culture and the Serbian Orthodox faith. When Orthodox churches and monasteries were under attack by the mostly-Muslim ethnic Albanians during the Balkan conflict, Pavle rallied international support. However, the Manila Bulletin reported that critics condone the fact that various Serbian bishops gave their blessing to Serbian troops who then went out and committed atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia during Pavle's patriarchy.
Nevertheless, the Patriarch is revered as a simple and humble man, and a “saint who walks” because of the work he did to bring the faith back to the forefront of Serbian society and religion back to the classroom after the fall of communism.
Serbian president Boris Tadić said that Pavle's death was a “huge loss” for Serbia, because Pavle's was “one of those people who by their very existence bring together the entire nation.” The nation of Serbia has declared three days or mourning for the deceased patriarch.