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Patriarch Will Discuss Middle East Christians With Pope

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, center, talks with delegates at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this 19 March 2013 file photo. It was the first time an Orthodox patriarch had attended a papal inauguration since the East-West schism in 1054. Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on 25 May during his three-day visit to the Holy Land. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring) 

10 May 2014 – By Francis X. Rocca

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople meets Pope Francis in Jerusalem on 25 May, one of their main discussion topics will be the “diminishing Christian minorities in the Middle East,” the patriarch told Catholic News Service.

“The urgency is upon us,” he said.

Patriarch Bartholomew, considered first among equals by Orthodox bishops, also expressed concern over Ukraine’s “fragile democracy that has barely emerged from the crushing atheistic Soviet era.”

The patriarch replied on 9 May to a series of written questions submitted by Catholic News Service. Among the topics addressed were his views of the three popes he has known since his election in 1991; resistance to ecumenism within his own Orthodox ranks; the possible convergence of Catholic and Orthodox practices on marriage; and tensions among Christians amid the current turmoil in Ukraine.

The unedited questions and answers follow:

Q: What is the significance of your upcoming meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem, particularly in terms of promoting closer relations between the churches and more effective cooperation on issues of common concern? Can you tell me any of the topics that you expect to discuss with Pope Francis and why?

A: The meeting of the pope and the ecumenical patriarch in Jerusalem 50 years after the historic encounter of our ever-memorable predecessors, Paul VI and Athenagoras, should not be underestimated by anyone. Since that groundbreaking meeting, tremendous strides have been made in the relations between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. Together, we have envisioned the real possibility of a fully shared ecclesial life, which is our vocation in Christ. The dialogues of love and truth that followed that fateful beginning have made important breakthroughs, even though the final goal of full and unbroken communion is yet to be achieved. But as in all worthy endeavors, the journey is as important as the goal. Therefore, we and Pope Francis have committed to this sacred pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem, to manifest the fraternal bonds between us, who are the successors to the holy brothers of Galilee, Peter and Andrew. There, in Mother Sion, we shall bear witness to the faith of Christ in the place where such faith was born. Now, more than ever, our fervent support of the diminishing Christian minorities in the Middle East is most vital.

Q: How would you characterize your relations with each of the three popes whom you have known since your election in 1991? What distinctive qualities has each pope brought to the dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches?

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Tags: Pope Francis Middle East Christians Holy Land Ecumenism Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I