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His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at impressive ceremonies in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC on October 21, 1997.

In the 223 year existence of the Congressional Gold Medal, only four religious figures have been so honored. Mother Teresa was the fourth religious figure to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Coincidentally, she passed away on the day that both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate independently exceeded the threshold of cosponsor-ship for the awarding of the gold Medal to the fifth religious figure in history - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of over 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and six million in America.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest and oldest honor that the Congress can bestow. It was first given on March 25, 1776 to George Washington. Throughout its history, the Congressional Gold Medal has been selectively bestowed upon individuals who have been deemed worthy of such recognition by the Congress, such as Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill.

In 1963, one hundred eighty seven years after the first Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was established. Recipients of this medal are selected by the President of the United States. The Congressional Gold Medal, in contrast to the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom, can only be granted by the Congress of the United States. All three medals, however, are usually bestowed by the President of the United States.

For the Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded, overwhelming congressional support is necessary. While the average bill in Congress typically receives approximately 40 cosponsors in the House and eight in the Senate, a Congressional Gold medal requires at least 290 cosponsors in the House and 40 in the Senate before it can be considered for adoption. The number of members of Congress cosponsoring the legislation bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal on Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew grew to 327, exceeding the number on all other bills in the Congress in recent years.