ADDIS ABABA - His Holiness Abune Paulos,the fifth patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahdo Orthodox Church, has died in a hospital in the Ethiopian capital, church sources reported today. He was 76.
The patriarch died at Balcha Hospital where he has been receiving treatments, according to Dejeselam, a website of the church.
In recent months, the health of the patriarch deteriorated rapidly and was unable to stand and walk without the support of assistants, Dejeselam reported.
The life of Abune Paulos has been marred by controversies since he was enthroned in 1992 as patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahdo Orthodox Church, which has over 40 million members.
A year after Prime Minister Meles Zenawi came to power, Abune Paulos replaced a living patriarch, Abune Merkorios, who is now patriarch of the exiled Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church.
Critics often accused the 76-year-old Abune Paulos of being very close to the Meles regime, to the point of ignoring the pleas of protesting university students who had taken shelter in church compounds to escape police brutality. The patriarch sided with the government, let alone to condemn the police who stormed the churches and brutalized the young and helpless university students who were dragged to detention camps.
He also took the Ethiopian society by surprise when he hosted American diva Beyoncé Knowles in 2007 and later oversaw the erection of his own statue in 2010. But the last straw that broke the camel's back set in when Abune Paulos remained indifferent over the desecration of the fifth-century Waldeba Monastery for sugar plantation and factories this year.
Abune Paulos was born in Adwa, Tigrai region, on 3 November 1935.
His death is very likely to have mixed public reactions: those who mourn his death as the loss of the father of the church and those who, along with the reported death (or near death) of Prime Minister Meles, may welcome the loss as a divine intervention to punish criminals.