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Media Watch 2006

01 December 2006
Source: Associated Press
Author: Brian Murphy
Comment: The following is a report of Associated Press of 1 December 2006.
Pope, Orthodox patriarch worship together
"Pope Benedict XVI, left, and Bartholomew I, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, prayed together at the patriarchal church of St. George. Turkey doesn't recognize the global stature of Bartholomew and considers him only the leader of the 2,000-member Greek Orthodox community in Turkey. Turkey also has imposed restrictions on efforts to expand orthodox churches and reopen a seminary, which was closed more than 20 years ago after Turkey blocked the acceptance of new students."

"Pope Benedict XVI, left, and Bartholomew I, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, prayed together at the patriarchal church of St. George before holding private talks. Benedict has made healing the rift between the two feuding branches of Christianity a key goal of his papacy.

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Pope Benedict and the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians prayed together in an Istanbul church Thursday, a service intended to underline their commitment to trying to heal the 1,000-year-old rift between the two churches.

Benedict went to St. George Church at the start of his third day in Turkey and embraced Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I -- called the "first among equals" of the Orthodox leaders.

Their meeting was watched with suspicion in Turkey as a possible challenge to state-imposed limits on Christian minorities and others. Benedict has declared a "fundamental" commitment to trying to heal rifts between the two ancient branches of Christianity, which split nearly 1,000 years ago over disputes including papal authority. Thousands of police lined the Pope's route in one of the biggest security operations in Turkish history.

Benedict began his pilgrimage among Turkey's tiny Christian communities on Wednesday by paying homage to an Italian priest slain during Islamic protests and expressing sympathy for the pressures facing religious minorities in the Muslim world. The messages - made at one of the holiest Christian sites in Turkey -- could set the tone for the remainder of Benedict's first papal trip to a Muslim country as he tries to strengthen bonds with the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

The Pope is expected to sharpen his calls for what the Vatican calls "reciprocity" -- that Muslim demands for greater respect in the West must be matched by increased tolerance and freedoms for Christians in Islamic countries. Turkey doesn't recognize the global stature of Bartholomew and considers him only the leader of the 2,000-member Greek Orthodox community in Turkey. Turkey also has imposed restrictions on efforts to expand orthodox churches and reopen a seminary, which was closed more than 20 years ago after Turkey blocked the acceptance of new students.

But too much pressure by the Pope -- who arrived in Istanbul late Wednesday -- could risk new friction with Muslims after broad gestures of goodwill in the opening hours of the trip Tuesday that sought to ease simmering Muslim anger over the Pope's remarks on violence and the Prophet Muhammad. A statement claiming to be from al-Qaida in Iraq denounced the Pope's visit as part of a "crusader campaign" against Islam and an attempt to "extinguish the burning ember of Islam" in Turkey. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the declaration -- posted on several Islamic militant websites -- shows the need for faiths to fight "violence in the name of God."

He said "neither the Pope nor his entourage are worried."

Still, Turkish authorities took massive security precautions for the Istanbul stop, with thousands of police on the street and roads cleared of all traffic for the papal motorcade. In their first meeting Wednesday evening, at Bartholomew's walled compound in Istanbul, the Pope stood amid black-robbed Orthodox clerics and urged everyone "to work for full unity of Catholics and Orthodox." The Pope began Wednesday at the ruins of a small stone home at the end of a dirt road near the Aegean Sea coast -- the site where the Virgin Mary is thought to have spent her last years.

At an outdoor Mass attended by only 250 invited guests, the Pope noted the challenges facing the "little flock" of Christians in Turkey. "I have wanted to convey my personal love and spiritual closeness, together with that of the universal church, to the Christian community here in Turkey, a small minority which faces many challenges and difficulties daily," the Pope said. Benedict went on to honour the memory of a Catholic priest who was slain in Turkey amid Muslim anger over the publication in European newspapers of caricatures of Muhammad.

In February, a Turkish teenager shot Rev. Andrea Santoro Italian priest as he knelt in prayer in his church in the Black Sea port of Trabzon. The attack was believed to have been linked to outrage over the cartoons.

Of Turkey's 70 million people, some 65,000 are Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 are Roman Catholic and 3,500 are Protestant, mostly converts from Islam. Another 23,000 are Jewish."