Pope Benedict XVI has prayed with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomeos I, who is often referred to as the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, making a step to healing a 1000 year rift, which the pontiff said obstructs the proclamation of the Gospel - writes Luigi Sandri for Ecumenical News International.
"The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel," said Benedict at a service on 30 November 2006 with Bartholomeos. They met in the Church of St George on the feast of St Andrew, the apostle and brother of St Peter who preached after the death of Jesus in Constantinople, which is now Istanbul.
Benedict and Bartholomeos signed a joint declaration in which both noted the need to "preserve Christian roots" in European culture while remaining "open to other religions and their cultural contributions".
In his homily, Bartholomeos said, "We confess in sorrow that we are not yet able to celebrate the holy sacraments in unity."
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has said his four day trip to Turkey is aimed at resuming the process to full unity between the two oldest paths for Christianity, which remained divided, particularly over the degree of papal authority.
The Ecumenical Patriarch has a special role among Orthodox bishops, though other Orthodox churches note his title in Latin is "primus inter pares" which means first among equals.
Part of their declaration was posted on the Web site of the Ecumenical Patriarachate (www.patriarchate.org/). In it, the Pope and Bartholomeos said, "We evaluated positively the path towards the shaping of the European Union. The key players in this huge endeavour will surely take into account all ... non-negotiable rights, especially religious freedom, which is proof and assurance of respect for all other freedoms."
They said further: "In every initiative for union, minorities, with their cultural rights and religious distinctiveness, should be protected. In Europe, both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, while remaining open to other religions and their contribution to culture, should unite their efforts to safeguard Christian roots, traditions and values, in order to preserve respect for history and to also contribute to the culture of a future Europe."
Thousands of police were on the streets of Istanbul during the visit of the Pope who also visited 1500-year-old Haghia Sophia, a domed building that once was a centre of Christianity. It was converted to a mosque in the 15th century during the Ottoman Empire, which lasted from 1299 to 1923. The Haghia Sophia is now a museum.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]