Full communion the aim, Patriarch tells Pope

Meeting Benedict XVI in Istanbul, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew told the Pope that the Catholic and Orthodox churches share an unhesitating desire to restore full communion.

Zenit reports that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I welcomed Benedict XVI in the See of Constantinople with the words "Beloved Brother, welcome."

"Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord," added the Orthodox patriarch, at the end of a prayer today in the Patriarchal Church of St George, in Constantinople, now Istanbul.

"I thank the Lord for the grace of this encounter, so filled with authentic good will and ecclesial significance," responded the Pope, who in his English-language address urged on the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox in search of unity.

Pope Benedict also recalled "the courageous decision to remove the memory of the anathemas of 1054," made by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1965. He also recalled the contribution made to this dialogue by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Dimitrios I.

"May their names be honoured and blessed!" Benedict XVI exclaimed.

"May this meeting strengthen our mutual affection and renew our common commitment to persevere on the journey leading to reconciliation and the peace of the Churches."

The Pope's arrival at the Phanar was accompanied by the festal ringing of bells and was followed by a doxology in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St George. At the end of the service the ecumenical patriarch welcomed Benedict XVI, who responded accordingly.

Later Patriarch Bartholomew I presided at a Divine Liturgy with Pope Benedict at the Cathedral of St George on the occasion of the feast day of St Andrew the Apostle, the elder brother of St Peter and founder of the Church of Constantinople.

The patriarch emphasised "our common desire to continue, without hesitation, our journey in a spirit of love and faithfulness towards the truth of the Gospel and in the shared tradition of the holy Fathers, to restore full communion of our Churches."

Turkish govt fears Vatican-style state aspiration

However, the Turkish government warned Pope Benedict against describing the Istanbul-based Orthodox Christian Patriarchate as "ecumenical", a foreign ministry spokesperson said yesterday, according to the Independent Online.

Turkey says the use of the ancient title "ecumenical" - which means "universal" in Greek - has political overtones that could undermine Turkish sovereignty.

Nationalists also suspect the holder of the post, Patriarch Bartholomew, of wanting to create a Vatican-style state in the heart of Istanbul, which as Constantinople was capital of the Greek-speaking, Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire until it fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453.

Pope Benedict used the word ecumenical in a speech during his four-day visit to Turkey that is aimed at mending ties between the globe's 1.1-billion Roman Catholics and 300-million Orthodox Christians as well as with the Muslim world.

Pope visits Blue Mosque

The Pope also visited one of Turkey's most famous mosques in what is being seen as an attempt to mend relations with the Muslim community, the BBC reports.

During his tour of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the Pontiff turned towards Mecca in a gesture of Muslim prayer.

It marks only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship.

Earlier, the Pope visited the nearby Hagia Sophia Museum - a site heavy with Christian and Muslim symbolism - drawing protests on the street.

The tour of the Blue Mosque, across the square from Hagia Sophia, was a last-minute addition to the schedule - part of efforts by the Pope to mend the damage his comments on Islam in September caused across the Muslim world.

Dozens of people linked to an Islamist-nationalist party demonstrated against the Pope's visit, saying the 79-year-old Pontiff's visit was an affront to the secularism enshrined in Turkey's constitution, as well as an attempt to stake a Catholic claim to the Hagia Sophia site.

Meanwhile, other reports indicate that Pope Benedict's alleged endorsement of Turkey's membership of the European Union, reported by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, was not so clear-cut.

A Vatican statement encouraged "the road of dialogue" but did not specifically support EU membership, adding that the Vatican "had neither the power nor the specific political task," the International Herald Tribune reports.

Two years ago, the Pontiff, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the head of the Holy See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called Turkey's potential admission "a grave error."

In Turkey, some political commentators said that the Pope's visit was "important for Turkey's EU membership," in the words of Guneri Civaoglu in the newspaper Milliyet, who added, "This is a big warning for conservative politicians who think the EU is a Christian Club."

However, some Vatican scholars cautioned that the apparent shift was not so much a Vatican reversal as a change in tone from a man who had moved from theologian to diplomat, the Tribune says.

Pope makes Turkish mosque visit (BBC News, 30/11/06)
Skepticism in Europe greets pope's remark on Turkey and EU (International Herald Tribune, 30/11/06)
Pope warned to play it safe (Independent Online, 30/11/06)
Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I: Our unity for the people of Europe and the world (AsiaNews, 30/11/06)
Patriarch and Pope Have "Good Will" Encounter (Zenit, 30/11/06)
Benedict XVI meets Bartholomew I, together for full unity (AsiaNews, 30/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Patriarch Bartholomew (Wikipedia)
Ecumenical Patriarchate
Patriarchate Papal Visit website

Vatican says "no" to violence as al-Qaeda denounces Pope's Turkey visit (Cathnews, 30/11/06)
Peaceful Pope promotes brotherhood, backs Turkey for EU (CathNews, 29/11/06)
Benedict to brave protests over Turkey visit (CathNews, 28/11/06)
Istanbul man fires shots in suspected protest over Benedict visit (CathNews, 3/11/06)
Pope Turkey trip looking likely for November (CathNews, 8/9/05)

1 Dec 2006