Newly seated Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej Gavrilovic has called for closer relations with Roman Catholics. Although seen as a moderate, he also staunchly supports Serbia's recovery of the breakaway province Kosovo.
The powerful Serbian Orthodox Church enthroned a new patriarch Saturday in Belgrade's Cathedral Church, a move that could lead to closer ties with the Vatican.
Irinej Gavrilovic, 80, was elected patriarch on Friday and is considered a moderate, especially compared to some other high-ranking clergy in the church. He raised the prospect of a visit to Serbia by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. Relations with Roman Catholics in recent years have been strained.
In Rome, the pontiff offered Irinej assurance "of the closeness of the Catholic Church" and proposed dialogue "in order that those obstacles which still impede full communion between us may be overcome."
Kosovo "a holy and martyred land"
Despite his moderate reputation, Irinej has said the church's top priority should be supporting the Serbian state in its efforts to recover the breakaway state of Kosovo.
"Our first duty as a church is to safeguard our Kosovo, a holy and martyred land, to help our state to defend it from those who wish to seize it," Irinej said. "Kosovo is our holy land, our Jerusalem."
Saturday's ceremony in Belgrade was only the first part of the enthronement ritual. Part two is planned to take place at a historic church in the western Kosovar town of Pec, although a date has not yet been set.
Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence nearly two years ago and some 65 nations have so far recognized its sovereignty.
Most Serbs reject Kosovo's independence and see the region as their cultural heartland.