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Serb spiritual leader speaks about Kosovo, abortion, poverty

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, regrets at giving independence to Kosovo, the province in the South that is cherished by Serbians as their historical heartland.

In his Easter message released on Good Friday, the spiritual leader of more than 7 million Christian Orthodox Serbs also spoke against abortion, globalization and economic inequality.

The epistle's emphasis, however, was on what will become of Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanian majority seeks independence. The issue is currently under discussion at the U.N. Security Council.

The United States and some European countries have endorsed a proposal to give Kosovo independence, but Patriarch Pavle denounced this as coming from "darkened minds who take the liberty to violate laws" by redrawing borders.

Referring to the province by its traditional Serb name "Kosovo and Metohija," Patriarch Pavle insisted that its secession would amount to "changing of ... our entire history, culture, of Serbia's statehood."

A 1998-99 war between Serbian government troops and ethnic Albanians ended with NATO bombing that forced Belgrade to hand over control of Kosovo to an interim U.N. administration.

Even if Kosovo secedes, the patriarch said, "we must not be disheartened, we must not be afraid. We believe in Christ and we have faith in God."

"We must remain with Christ and refrain from any hatred, from any bitterness. ... Those who inflict evil upon others do even more so to themselves," the leader said, also decrying the desecration and destruction of more than 100 ancient Serb churches and monasteries in Kosovo in recent years.

Patriarch Pavle, 92, also lamented that "millions of ordinary people are victims of poverty and hunger while a small number lives in limitless luxury."

The patriarch called abortion "a great sin that occurs daily in the world. From the day they are conceived ... innocent children fear for their lives."

There are some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, including well over 100 million in Russia.

Serbia's government has repeatedly said it counts on Russian support in the U.N. Security Council when it decides on Kosovo's future.