Page last updated at 15:36 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Serbian Orthodox Church elects moderate patriarch

Irinej Gavrilovica (16 January 2010)
Correspondents say Bishop Irinej is seen as open to modernisation

The Serbian Orthodox Church has chosen the moderate Bishop of Nis, Irinej Gavrilovica, as its new patriarch.

The 80-year-old was elected from three candidates initially chosen in a secret ballot by the Holy Synod. His rivals were considered hardline nationalists.

He succeeds the highly popular Patriarch Pavle, who died at the age of 95 in November after a long illness.

The Serbian Orthodox Church, which has about 11 million members worldwide, is still influential in national politics.

Under Patriarch Pavle it strongly supported the government in its efforts to stop the former province of Kosovo from gaining independence.

Thousands attend the memorial service for the late Patriarch Pavle in front of St Sava cathedral, in Belgrade, 19 November 2009
Thousands followed Patriarch Pavle's coffin through Belgrade in November

Bishop Irinej, who is seen as open to modernisation, will become the 45th Serbian patriarch when he is enthroned on Saturday.

Correspondents say he may encourage a rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church, which could see Pope Benedict XVI visiting Serbia in future.

After being elected, he told the Tanjug news agency that his election to "this honourable and difficult duty" was "God's will and the will of the Holy Synod".

Most of Serbia's seven million people are Orthodox Christians.

Half a million people lined the streets of Belgrade to pay respects to Patriarch Pavle during his funeral procession.

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UPI Serbian church installs new patriarch - 8 hrs ago
Melbourne Age Patriarch vows to defend Kosovo claim - 19 hrs ago
New Zealand Herald Moderate elected as Serbian patriarch - 21 hrs ago New Serbian Patriarch Irinej enthroned - 22 hrs ago
Washington PostSerbian church elects its patriarch - 51 hrs ago
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