Metropolitan Neofit of Ruse elected Patriarch of Bulgarian Church
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Metropolitan Neofit of Ruse elected Patriarch of Bulgarian Church
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Metropolitan Neofit of Ruse was elected Sunday as the new spiritual leader of Bulgaria's Orthodox Christians amid social unrest threatening to throw the Balkan country in a serious political crisis.

The 67-year-old Neofit was picked among three candidates shortlisted in a secret ballot by the 14 bishops that make up the Holy Synod of the church.

An electoral college made up of 138 members gave 90 votes to Neofit. He is considered a compromise candidate after a power struggle within the church over who will succeed the late Patriarch Maxim.

Maxim, highly popular among around 6 million Bulgarian Orthodox Church followers, died after a long illness on Nov. 6 aged 98.

The new patriarch is expected to continue his predecessor's effort to heal the centuries-old rift with the Roman Catholic Church.

Maxim was hailed for meeting with Pope John Paul II during the late pontiff's visit to Sofia in 2002, a trip seen as warming the frosty relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican.

The enthronement ceremony for Patriarch Neofit was held at Sofia's Alexander Nevski Cathedral Church. It was attended by church elders, state officials, representatives of other religious groups and dozens of believers.

The ceremony coincided with ongoing nationwide protests against high energy bills, poverty and corruption, and demands for radical political reforms, which forced the government to resign.

The newly elected patriarch offered a public prayer for the unity of the nation.

Speaking at the ceremony, President Rosen Plevneliev voiced hope the new patriarch will contribute to Orthodox unity and the strengthening of the faith, and will preserve the integrity of the church.

In Bulgaria, the church is independent from the state, but all religious denominations must first register with the government.

Neofit takes the helm of the church in a country where Christian Orthodoxy is the declared faith of about 80 percent of 7.3 million Bulgarians, but only 10 percent see churchgoing as an important part of their lives.
2013 Feb 25 00:01
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