Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, seen by many of the world's Orthodox Christians as their spiritual leader, has said he backs the bid by Turkey to join the European Union if the Muslim-majority nation meets human rights standards.
"Europe needs to bring Turkey into its project," Bartholomeos said in a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels on 24 September. "Turkey needs to foster intercultural dialogue and tolerance in order to be accepted into the European Project."
In his address, Bartholomeos noted reticence in some European Union countries about Turkey's possible EU membership because the country is predominantly Muslim. "And yet Europe is filled with millions of Muslims, who have come here from all sorts of backgrounds," the patriarch told his audience.
Istanbul was once the Byzantine Christian capital of Constantinople but now belongs to Muslim-majority and politically secular Turkey. In recent years, Turkey has faced criticism for its treatment of religious minorities including Orthodox Christians.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, earlier in September, said Turkey's policies had led to the decline and, in some cases, virtual disappearance of some religious minorities from lands they had inhabited for many years.
In his EU speech, Patriarch Bartholomeos urged "respect for the rights of the minority within every majority. When and where the rights of the minority are observed, the society will for the most part be just and tolerant."
The Orthodox leader, who is sometimes called the "Green Patriarch" because of his support for the environmental cause, also warned against "ecocide", or the "self-destruction of the one ecosphere that sustains all human existence".
He called for a recognition of "interconnectedness, the powerful communion of all life, and our true interdependency on one another".
[With 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.]