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AP Release - Ecumenical Patriarch Praises John Paul, Urges Christian Unity

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Jun 19, 2003

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians praised Pope John Paul II's efforts to promote world peace Tuesday and said unity among Christians would help bring peace in a world struggling with conflict.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I was speaking in a Catholic cathedral in Istanbul to honor John Paul, who will mark his 25th year as pontiff in October.

"His witness as a peacemaker allows the world to believe that peace, while elusive, can indeed be attained," the patriarch said in French.

Bartholomew commended, in particular, John Paul's efforts to establish contact with other Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The patriarch, who had long called for a peaceful solution to the standoff in Iraq, also spoke harshly about recent developments in the Middle East.

"The entire region surrounding the Holy Land has become the hotbed for religious and political extremism. Just weeks ago the war in Iraq came to an end, and in its place has come anarchy, tribal conflicts and ethnic strife," Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew, considered first among equals among Orthodox patriarchs, urged Christian unity, saying it would encourage peace.

"As we look around at the world today, and as we shed tears for all of the death and destruction, can we allow ourselves to be anything but resolute in our struggle to find unity?" Bartholomew said. "Until we proclaim one message as one community, our ability to win these struggles is seriously undermined."

Orthodox and Catholic churches have been divided since 1054 in a dispute over the authority of the pope and different interpretations of their creed. Both John Paul and Bartholomew have expressed hope for reunification despite theological differences.

Bartholomew also appealed last week for unity in a speech in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Bartholomew directly controls several Greek Orthodox churches around the world, including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The patriarch is also considered the spiritual leader of 14 autonomous Orthodox churches, including those of Russia, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.

The patriarchate has had its seat in Constantinople, today's Istanbul, since the time of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire. The city was conquered by Muslim Turks in 1453. Only a few thousand Greeks remain.

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