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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alexy II Says Kosovo Sacred for Serbs

ReutersRussian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II addressing the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday.
STRASBOURG, France -- The head of the Russian Orthodox Church said Tuesday that Serbs must be able to live peacefully in Kosovo after its final status is determined and decried the destruction of Orthodox churches in the province.

Patriarch Alexy II said Kosovo was "sacred" for Serbs and offered his help in mediating the crisis in the region.

"The Russian Orthodox Church has considerable experience in peace-building and peacemaking, and we stand ready to help," he told the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

In a speech and a question-and-answer session Alexy also lamented widespread poverty and a major gap between the rich and the poor in Russia, and -- in comments going directly against the spirit of the human rights watchdog -- lashed out against homosexuality, calling it an illness.

He told the council that Kosovo was a subject of political bargaining by people who did not appreciate the province's history and its importance for Serbs.

"Those people have never been to Kosovo and have never seen with their own eyes what Kosovo means for the Serbian people," he said.

Orthodox Serbs consider Kosovo, although today predominantly Muslim and ethnic Albanian, the heart of their ancient homeland. Since the end of a 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serbian forces, Kosovo's minority Serbs have lived in guarded enclaves under fear of attack at the hands of Albanians, and many Orthodox churches and monuments have been destroyed or vandalized.

"There are many monuments that are sacred to the people of Serbia, and we cannot silently stand by when those monuments are being destroyed, despite the fact that they are under the protection of UNESCO and were built in the 12th, 13th or 14th centuries," Alexy said.

Alexy repeated his calls for a wide-ranging dialogue between cultures and religions, saying no worldview, including secularism, should claim a monopoly in Europe or elsewhere.

On homosexuality he said he could not depart from his church's teachings.

"No one should be discriminated against on the basis of conviction, but no one should try to keep us quiet when we call something a sin," he said.

"There is a lot of homosexual propaganda that has a lot of influence on young people who otherwise have nothing to do with homosexuality. ... It's an illness, a distortion of a human being."