Petros VII, 55, Top Patriarch Who Sought Religious Dialogue, Dies
Published: September 13, 2004
Petros VII, patriarch of Alexandria, who preached Christian-Muslim dialogue from one of the world's oldest seats of Christianity and who vigorously promoted the growth of Greek Orthodoxy in Africa, died Saturday at the age of 55.
Within the Greek Orthodox Church, Patriarch Petros was considered second in rank only to the ecumenical patriarch in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople and the onetime capital of the Byzantine Empire.
He was enthroned as the 115th patriarch and pope of Alexandria and all Africa in 1997, taking over one of the poorest Greek Orthodox patriarchates and one of only three that serve the Arab world's diminishing population of Christians.
Most of Egypt's Greeks fled that country in the 1950's, during the time of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Patriarch Petros inherited an organization that was struggling to find priests and other staff members to take up its missionary work in Africa.
At the time he took his post, there were only an estimated 1,650 Greeks still living in Egypt, but the patriarchate had expanded into East Africa and had footholds in South Africa and several countries of West Africa, to serve about 250,000 ethnic Greeks in Africa and a growing number of native Africans.
But the patriarch was also sensitive to the church's position as a minority religion in Arab countries and spoke passionately about the need for mutual respect and understanding between Orthodoxy and Islam.
In January 2002, the patriarch reached out to
"From the historic city founded by Alexander the Great and where Christianity was preached by St. Mark the apostle and evangelist, from the land of the Nile river and a country which is a model and example of harmony between Christians and Muslims," he wrote, "I wish to make an earnest call to your excellency to avoid any attacks on Iraq."
Patriarch Petros added: "Such a war would be seen as an attack against Islam. Such an impression, though false, would have unjust, far-reaching and long-lasting consequences upon religions, their faithful and their reputations."