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Head of Syrian Orthodox Church dead at 80

March 24, 2014

Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, who has led the Syrian Orthodox Church since 1980, has died at the age of 80 following a long illness.

“The whole Christian world has lost one of its outstanding spiritual leaders, courageous and wise in leading people trough very difficult times,” Pope Francis said in a telegram of condolence.

“Following his election as Patriarch in 1980, His Holiness was an engaged witness of the successive violent conflicts that have brought untold death and suffering to the Middle East, especially to Iraq and most recently Syria. “In particular I give heartfelt thanks to God for his constant work to improve relations among Christians and, from the time he attended the Second Vatican Council as an observer, for his extraordinary contribution to strengthening communion between Syrian Orthodox Christians and the Catholic faithful.”

The Syrian Orthodox Church is one of the Oriental Orthodox churches that ceased to be in full communion with the Holy See following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. According to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the church has 500,000 members in Syria and 1.2 million in India.


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