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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Eritrea's 'spiritual father' dies
The patriarch died aged 101

Since the early hours of this morning, Eritreans have gathered at the main orthodox church in Asmara to pay their final respects to Abuna Filipos.

The first Patriarch of the Eritrean orthodox church died after a short illness on Wednesday at the age of 101.

Inside the church, His body lay in state, dressed in his official robes and a gold crown, as priests led the people in prayer and religious chants.

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and other top government officials came to the ceremony.

The Patriarch of the Egyptian Coptic church to which the Eritrean orthodox is affiliated was also in attendance.

Patriot

Outside women clad in white, stood alongside priests dressed in their bright robes as the prayers were broadcast on loud speakers.

Mourners
The orthodox church plays a fundamental role in Eritrean daily life

Roughly half of Eritrea's population is Christian, the vast majority belong to the orthodox church, which was established in Eritrea and Ethiopia by the end of the fourth century.

The patriarch Filipos began life as Berhane Tewolde and entered into religious life in 1912, at the age of 11, when he moved to the monastery of Debre Bizen, perched atop a high mountain on which women and even female animals are forbidden to set foot.

This is where he will be buried on Saturday, his body flown there by helicopter.

Made a Bishop in 1927 he served in Ethiopia until 1991.

He was known to be an advocate of Eritrean independence.

In reporting his life the Eritrean government press called him the spiritual father of resistance to Ethiopian oppression.

After the liberation war he took charge of the Eritrean orthodox church after its separation from the Ethiopian church.

At the age of 97, he was elected as the first Eritrean patriarch in 1998.

However, following the recent war he led efforts by religious leaders to reconcile the two peoples.

The church in Eritrea plays a fundamental role in daily life for many Eritreans.

.As one mourner said, "the patriarch Filipos was like a father, not just in religious affairs but also political , he was a like father of Eritrea."

The church is especially important during times of difficulty. During the war mass services were held as people prayed for peace, as the rains failed churches were packed as people prayed for rain.

See also:

30 Oct 00 | Africa
24 Apr 02 | Africa
29 Jun 02 | Country profiles
22 Feb 02 | Africa
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