Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
Print this page Print Bookmark and Share
Media Watch 2004

14 September 2004
Source: Guardian
Author: Shola Adeneka
Comment: The following obituary appeared in the Guardian of London on 14 September 2004.
Patriach Petros VII

Greek Orthodox leader who revitalised his church in Africa

His Beatitude Petros VII, the 115th Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, who has died, aged 55, in a helicopter accident in the Aegean Sea, was the man widely believed to have been responsible for the resurgence of the Greek Orthodox Church in Africa.

He was elected in 1997 to lead the oldest Christian group on the continent, which traces its origins back to St Mark, who was said to have established it in the 1st century AD. In the early days of the church, the influence of the bishop of Alexandria was second only to that of the Pope in Rome, though it started to wane in the 4th century after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its only religion.

The Greek-speaking church authority continued to recognise the Egypt-based Orthodox patriarch despite the fact that most Egyptian Christians followed the rival Coptic patriarch. Many of Egypt's Greeks suffered centuries of persecution after the Arab conquest.

Petros inherited a demoralised church, but brought such energy and passion to his duties that its congregation rose to some 250,000 - a level not seen since Roman times. Its missions have expanded into all corners of Africa, from Ghana to South Africa.

He was also a voice of reason between Christian minorities and the majority Muslim population in the Middle East and north Africa. He championed peace and mutual respect between the two religions, and was on good terms with many Arab leaders, including the Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat.

Petros was born Petros Papapetrou, in the village of Sichari, in what is now Turkish-controlled Cyprus. Both his father and grandfather were Greek Orthodox priests. At just 12 years old, he followed their footsteps into priesthood, enrolling at the monastery of Macheras. In 1969, he graduated from the Seminary of Apostle Barnabas, in Nicosia, and was made a deacon. He also undertook postgraduate study in Dublin.

He joined the clergy of the patriarchate of Alexandria, and, in 1974, was awarded a Greek government scholarship to study theology at Athens University. After graduating in 1978, he went to Egypt, was ordained a presbyter by the then patriarch of Alexandria, and, in 1980, was sent to lead the church in Johannesburg, where he used his position to call for the end of apartheid. He was made bishop of Babylon in 1983, and subsequently named as patriarch vicar in Cairo.

In June 1990, Pertros was sent to lead the church in west Africa, with his base in Accra, Ghana, and authority over the church flocks in 22 countries. His other postings took him to Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. He gained a valuable insight into how to cultivate more congregations for the church in a continent that has the fastest growing Christian population in the world. He was elected Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa by the church synod in February 1997, following the death of Patriarch Parthenios III the previous year.

Throughout his service, Petros had put special emphasis on missionary work. After his enthronement, he led many official tours in and outside Africa. He also developed links with other Orthodox Christian groups around the world.

In January 2003, he led a group of Christian leaders who wrote to President Bush urging him not to invade Iraq. Petros believed the Middle East to be a sensitive region, and that a war would be seen as an attack against Islam. He wrote that such an impression, though false, would have far-reaching consequences on religions, their faithful and their reputations.

A polyglot, who spoke French, English, Arabic and Greek, he was killed on his first official pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the community of Orthodox monasteries that has been a centre of eastern Orthodoxy since AD963.

ยท Patriach Petros VII, church leader, born September 3 1949; died September 11 2004"