NORTHAMPTON -- The Venerable Maha Ghosananda, a monk who rebuilt Buddhism in Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, died Monday at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
The Venerable Ghosananda, who lived in Leverett and Providence, was believed to be in his late 70s. Hospital spokeswoman Christina Trinchero said she did not know the cause of death.
Non Nget, a senior Buddhist patriarch in Cambodia who has known the Venerable Ghosananda since childhood, said he was 81.
In Cambodia, the country marked the passing of a "resilient advocate for peace" who had "made a lot sacrifices for the sake of happiness and peace," said Chhorn Iem, Cambodia's deputy minister for religious affairs.
The monk lived in exile between 1975 and 1979, when the Khmer Rouge denounced Buddhism and killed nearly 2 million people through starvation, disease, overwork, and execution.
The Venerable Ghosananda was one of the first monks to return to Cambodia and train new Buddhist leaders after Pol Pot's regime was toppled by the Vietnamese in 1979.
"He did everything he could to restore Buddhism to Cambodia," said Jim Perkins, pastor of the Leverett Congregational Church and a friend of the religious leader.
The Venerable Ghosananda was elected a Supreme Cambodian Buddhist Patriarch by fellow Buddhist monks in 1988 for restoring Buddhism in the war-torn country.
During the 1990s, he led the Dhamma Yatra movement to rebuild religious life in Cambodia.
In 1994, he led a peace march to the northwestern town of Pailin, then still a Khmer Rouge stronghold. Three Cambodians taking part in the march, including a Buddhist monk and a nun, were killed in the crossfire between government soldiers and Khmer Rouge rebels. The Venerable Ghosananda escaped unharmed.
In 1997, after the Khmer Rouge fighters in Pailin laid down their arms and rejoined the government, he successfully led another pilgrimage for peace to Pailin. This time, the marchers were warmly welcome by residents and former rebels of the Khmer Rouge, which had executed monks and destroyed Buddhist temples during the regime's reign of terror.
The Venerable Ghosananda moved to Western Massachusetts in the late 1980s. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times in the mid-1990s.