Vatican City, Aug 17, 2012 / 03:47 pm (CNA).- The death of the head of the Ethiopian Church has garnered sympathy and sadness from Pope Benedict XVI, who praised the patriarch's ecumenical efforts.
His Holiness Abuna Paulos, who served as the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church for two decades, died at the age of 76 after battling a long illness.
In an Aug. 17 telegram, Pope Benedict addressed the clergy, religious and faithful of the Ethiopian Church, saying that he learned of their leader's passing “with great sadness.”
Pope Benedict recalled the patriarch's trips to the Vatican “with satisfaction,” especially his 2009 visit when he delivered an address to the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.
“I am also grateful for his firm commitment to promoting greater unity through dialogue and cooperation between the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church,” Pope Benedict said.
In 1974, under Ethiopia’s Derg regime, Patriarch Paulos was arrested before he sought refuge in the U.S., where he remained until 1992.
In 2000, the United Nations refugee agency awarded him a Nansen Medal for his work in conflict resolution and humanitarian aid during the Ethiopia-Eritrea border war which ended that same year.
Approximately two-thirds of Ethiopia’s 83 million person population belongs to the Ethiopian Church.
It is widely held that in the second century, St. Frumentius, a Roman citizen from what is now modern day Lebanon, was the first Christian to evangelize Ethiopia.
As a result, the man who would become Emperor Ezana converted and introduced Christianity as the state religion during his reign.
During its early years, the church was deeply committed to the understanding of Christ's full humanity and divinity and took its name “Tawahedo” from the word meaning “unified.”
The Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church is one of the six ancient churches that make up the Oriental Orthodox churches.