Orthodox leader hopes to resolve rift with Catholics
By Mitch Stacy
By Mitch Stacy
TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — The spiritual leader of the world's 200 million-plus Orthodox Christians said Thursday that he is eager to meet with Pope Benedict XVI sometime in the coming year in an effort to heal the long-standing rift between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Visiting this heavily Greek community northwest of Tampa for the annual Feast of the Epiphany celebration, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said that the pope plans an official visit sometime this year to his headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey.
"We are in very good relationships with the present pope, Benedict XVI, and I'm in the very happy position to announce to you that we are going to restart the dialogue on the international global level between the Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church," Bartholomew said in Greek through an interpreter, Archbishop Demetrios, who is primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
The last official talks between the two churches five years ago broke off without an agreement on theological issues that have divided them for almost 1,000 years.
Bartholomew had received a warm reception from the Vatican after inviting the pope to Turkey for the Feast of St. Andrew in November. But they were subtly rebuffed when the government of primarily Muslim Turkey, instead of approving the visit, issued its own invitation to Benedict for an unspecified date in 2006.
Because Benedict is also the head of state of the Vatican, any visit to Turkey would need to be coordinated with the Turkish government.
Bartholomew said Thursday that "within this year that has already begun, the new pope is going to visit officially the ecumenical patriarchy."
Both the current patriarch and the current pope appear deeply committed to bridging the rift between their estranged churches and helping to unite two of the largest branches of Christianity.
"The commitment of the Catholic Church to the search for Christian unity is irreversible," the pope said in June.
Pope John Paul II was praised by Greek religious and political leaders for his efforts to ease the division between the churches. John Paul visited Greece in 2001, the first pope to do so in nearly 1,300 years, meeting with Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Rifts between the two ancient branches of Christianity began as early as the fifth century over the rising influence of the papacy and later over wording of the creed, or confession of faith. The split was sealed in 1054.
Today, Bartholomew is scheduled to make a quick trip to New Orleans, where he is to be joined by Roman Catholic Archbishop Alfred Hughes for a visit to flood-damaged areas of the Lower Ninth Ward.
Later, Bartholomew will conduct a brief service of thanksgiving at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina.