BELGRADE, Serbia: The Serbian Orthodox Church urged its followers in an Easter message on Sunday to take a vow to defend Kosovo.
The head of the church, Patriarch Pavle, and other top dignitaries said in the message that "Kosovo is part of every Orthodox Christian Serb's life."
"We are urging all, from scientists and politicians to the youngest and most modest sons and daughters of our nation, to deserve and preserve Kosovo with our work and honorable living," the message said.
Kosovo was the ancient seat of the Serbian church and the Serbian medieval state. But the region is now dominated by ethnic Albanians who declared independence from Serbia in February.
Kosovo statehood has won recognition from the United States and its European Union allies. Serbia and its traditional Orthodox Christian ally, Russia, have rejected the move as illegal under international law.
The Serbian church said in its message that Western support for Kosovo amounted to "human injustice and violence by the world powermongers against our Kosovo, Serbia and the entire Serbian nation."
"Creators of this historic injustice wanted to hurt us in the worst possible way, and inflict unspeakable pain and sorrow," the church said.
"But if we take that vow (to defend Kosovo), no one can take Kosovo away from us," the message added.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo is 1999, after NATO launched an air war to force Belgrade to halt a brutal crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists.
Serbian leaders have refused to let go of Kosovo, vowing to one day take the territory back.
Widespread anger over Kosovo's secession has also led to a rise in nationalism ahead of key parliamentary elections in May, which may see the return to power of allies of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Underscoring the importance of Kosovo in Serbia, pro-Western President Boris Tadic traveled to the 14th century Decani monastery in western Kosovo on Saturday to attend an Easter service there.
The official Tanjug news agency quoted Tadic as saying there that "we have an obligation in the years to come to remain dedicated to this place, our Kosovo and our Serbia."
Serbs and other Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter several weeks after observances by other Christian denominations.