Who is Abune Paulos?
-->Abune Paulos (born Gebre Igziabiher Wolde Yohannes 1935) is Abuna and Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (1992 - ). His full title is "His Holiness Abune Paulos, Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos (re-ese Liqane Papasat) of Ethiopia, Echege of the See of St. Takla Haymanot and Archbishop of Axum."
Early lifePatriarch Abune Paulos was born in Adwa in the province of Tigray in northern Ethiopia. His family was long associated with the Abune Gerima monastery near the town, and he entered the monastery as a young boy as a deacon trainee, eventually taking monastic orders and being ordained a priest. He continued his education at the Holy Trinity Theological College in Addis Ababa under the patronage of Patriarch Abune Tewophilos. He was sent to study at the St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary in the United States, and afterwards joined the doctoral program at the Princeton Theological Seminary.
In 1974, his education was interrupted by a summons from Patriarch Abune Tewophilos, and returned to Addis Ababa shortly after the revolution that toppled Emperor Haile Selassie. He was anointed a bishop along with four others, assuming the name and style of Abune Paulos, and given responsibility for ecumencial affairs by the Patriarch. But because the Patriarch had named these new bishops without the permission of the new Derg regime, all five men were arrested, and the Patriarch eventually executed. Abune Paulos and his fellow bishops were imprisoned until 1983. Abune Paulos returned to Princeton in 1984 to complete his doctoral degree there, and began his life as an exile. He was elevated to the rank of Archbishop by Patriarch Abune Takla Haymanot in 1986 while in exile.
Actions as a PatriarchFollowing the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, the then Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Merkorios, was dethroned in circumstances that remain under dispute. Patriarch Abune Merkorios and his supporters maintain that he was forced from office by the new EPRDF regime and it's supporters, while his opponents maintain that the Patriarch abdicated following numerous protests against him by the faithful. His attempt to reverse his abdication was refused by the Synod of the Church which authorized a new Patriarchal election. Abune Paulos was elected in 1992, and Abune Merkorios and his supporters went into exile, establishing a rival synod in the United States.
Abune Paulos has presided over a remarkable period of the Church's history. Much urban property that had been taken from the church was returned, most notably the return of the campus and the library of Holy Trinity Theological College, and the College was reopened. He built a new Patriarchal office and residence complex at the site of the old one, and reformed the bureaucracy of the Patriarchate. He has also traveled widely, strengthening the ties of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with other sister churches. He reluctantly acquiesed to the breaking away of the Eritrean Church when that country declared independence. Abune Paulos also took the initiative to the series of peace meetings between all Ethiopian and Eritrean religious leaders in 1998, 1999 and 2000 in an effort to bring peace between the two countries in response to a bitterly fought border war. Patriarch Abune Paulos and the Orthodox Church have also been extesively involved in the support of war-displaced and drought-hit Ethiopians, making the Church one of the major relief organizations in the country.
The Patriarch has continually championed the cause of the many victims of the Derg regime. Patriarch Abune Paulos presided over the funerals of Emperor Haile Selassie in 2000 (even in the face of government hostility to this event), Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen in 1997, and Princess Tenagnework in 2004. He has also presided over the funerals of the 60 ex-officials of the Imperial government in 1993.
In March of 2006, Abune Paulos was elected to serve as one of the seven presidents of the World Council of Churches, during it's summit in Brazil.
ControversyDue to controversy over the resignation of his predecessor Abune Merkorios, some Ethiopian churches in North America and Europe recognise Abune Merkorios, and dispute the legitimacy of Patriarch Abune Paulos. Abune Paulos' vocal support for the EPRDF regime has also alienated many of the government's opponents, who criticise him for taking sides. The fact that the Patriarch is of the same Tigrean ethnicity as the leadership of the EPRDF has led to accusations of ethnocentrism and xenophobia as well as nepotism at all levels of church administration. The government is often accused of having engineered the rise of Abune Paulos to the Patriarchate because of his Tigrayan ethnicity. Visits by the Patriarch to western countries in the early part of his reign were met with emotional demonstrations and angry protests against him. There have been several protests in Ethiopia itself against the Patriarch, most notably at the Lideta Le Mariam ("Nativity of the Virgin Mary") Church in Addis Ababa. In an incident at the St. Stephen's church in Addis Ababa in January 1997, a hermit monk was shot and killed during the feast day of the church. Although the official account was that the monk had attempted to assassinate the Patriarch with a sword, and that one of the Patriarch's entourage had defended the Patriarch with his pistol, the fact that members of the Patriarch's entourage were armed and carried guns into church was as shocking as the allegation of an attempted assassination, and damaged the Patriarch's reputation. The Patriarch's reputation was somewhat improved by his dignified conduct of the funerals of the members of the Imperial family and the prominent opposition figure Professor Asrat Woldeyes, in spite of government hositility to those figures. However his continued vocal support of the EPRDF and its policies continued to alienate many members of the Ethiopian Church.
In the aftermath of the controversial General Elections of May, 2005, Abune Paulos was heckled as a pro-government puppet during the public Maskal ("Feast of the Finding of the True Cross") celebrations in September. This expression against the Patriarch and the government members accompanying him led to stone throwing and rioting, reflecting wide-spread public anger against both the government and the Patriarch. His failure to denounce the killings of unarmed demonstrators by Federal security forces following the 2005 elections has also been criticised in the following weeks. Further public heckling of the Patriarch at Timkat (or Epiphany) celebrations in January 2006 led to even more violent confrontations between the public and the police, and numerous people were injured and several apparently killed. The Patriarch finds himself increasingly unpopular and embattled.
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