Roman Catholic Church who was seen as a peace maker in the troubled region, officials confirmed Friday, January 13.
The 67-year-old Bishop Mark Sopi died Wednesday, January 11, at a hospital in Kosovo’s capital Pristina after suffering a heart attack.
He will be buried Saturday, January 14, when the mourning day will be observed throughout the province, the office of Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi told BosNewsLife. Kosumi was also to participate in a commemoration Friday, January 13, in Pristina’s National Theater.
"The people of Kosovo will miss Bishop Sopi," Prime Minister Kosumi said in remarks published earlier. "His contribution was multifaceted and this makes the loss even greater."
Sopi was appointed Kosovo’s bishop in 1996. Although just 4 percent of Kosovo’s population is Catholic, he was seen as a key player in reducing ethnic strife between the mainly ethnic Albanian Muslim majority and the Serbian Orthodox minority.
His death came therefore as a shock for Bishop Eugenio Sbarbaro in Belgrade, who is Apostolic Nuncio, the Vatican’s title for an ambassador. "He was a man who loved Kosovo" he said in an interview with Vatican Radio monitored by BosNewsLife.
"He was leading the Catholic people and during the war a leading figure among the Muslim minority. He did much to help not only the Muslim people, but also the Orthodox people in that part of the world," Sbarbaro added.
He said however that Bishop Sipo "had suffered" under a barrage of attacks in local media. "He tried to help all the communities towards a better future."
The province is technically still part of Serbia, which forms a lose union with the tiny republic of Montenegro, however ethnic Albanian leaders seek independence.
Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, following a NATO air war aimed at halting a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanians. The bishop was reportedly a close friend of Kosovo’s President Ibrahim Rugova, who himself struggles with lung cancer.