BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle, who called for peace and conciliation during the Balkan ethnic wars of the 1990s but failed to openly condemn extreme Serb nationalism, died Sunday. He was 95.
There have been reports of an internal struggle over who would succeed Pavle, a respected theologian and linguist known for personal humility and modesty. The favorite is influential Bishop Amfilohije, a hard-liner known for his anti-Western and ultra-nationalist stands.
The seven-million member church said its highest body, the Holy Synod, could announce today when Pavle’s successor will be chosen.
Pavle took over the church in 1990 just as the collapse of communism ended years of state policy of repressing religion. He often spoke against violence in the ethnic wars Orthodox Serbs fought against Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims during the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.
“God help us understand that we are human beings and that we must live as human beings, so that peace would come into our country and bring an end to the killing,” Pavle appealed – mostly in vain – in 1991 as fighting raged between Serbs and Croats over disputed territories in Croatia.
The church’s demand for President Slobodan Milosevic’s resignation – which he ignored – helped lead to the popular revolt that eventually ousted the autocratic president in October 2000.