Turkey visit to deepen friendship between Pope and Patriarch

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Pope Francis travels from Ankara to Istanbul on Saturday where he’ll visit the famous Hagia Sophia museum and the Blue Mosque. Later in the day he’ll celebrate Mass at the Catholic Cathedral and participate in an ecumenical prayer liturgy with Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world. The two men, who’ve met several times since the start of Francis’ pontificate, will also sign a joint declaration after celebrating a Divine Liturgy marking the feast day of St Andrew on Sunday.

Accompanying Pope Francis on this journey to Turkey is the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch. Before leaving, he sat down with Philippa Hitchen to share his hopes ahead of this latest encounter between the Pope and the Patriarch ….

The visit comes just six months after the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch met together in Jerusalem and singed a Joint Declaration about their commitment to the search for Christian unity. Speaking of his hopes and expectations of the upcoming visit to Turkey, Cardinal Koch says that first of all it will be another step in deepening the good relations that already exist between Rome and Constantinople.

He also points out that since Pope Paul VI went to Constantinople in 1967, every Pope had made a visit in the 2nd year of his pontificate: Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis: this – he says “is a very beautiful idea”.

The Cardinal speaks of a long tradition of mutual visits: “The Catholic Church visits Constantinople on the Feast of Saint Andrew on November 30, and a high delegation comes to Rome to celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29.

Koch agrees that the strong personal friendship between the Pope and the Patriarch can help strengthen this engagement because – he says – the Ecumenical Patriarch is a very good help for me: “there are some tendencies in the International Commission that say we must leave the ecumenical theological dialogue and have a good collaboration in other issues. But the Patriarch says we have the duty to deepen the theological questions, and that is also my opinion and commitment and I am very grateful for the help of the Ecumenical Patriarch”.

Asked whether the Pope’s presence in Istanbul can help the Orthodox Church with its demands, for example, for legal recognition or for the reopening of the Orthodox Seminary for training new priests, Koch says that his hope is that after “this long time that the theological school of Halki has been closed, the new Government may have a new opportunity to open it”.

He says he has heard from government sourches that they will be able to do so when there is a change also in Athens, because there is no Mosque in Athens. But, Kock points out: “this is a little strange because the Ecumenical Patriarch has no responsibility in Athens”.

“We must resolve the problem in Greece and we must resolve the problem in Turkey. And hopefully the visit of the Holy Father can help resolve relationships between the Church and the government” he says.

The journey will also provide a strong focus on Catholic Muslim relations and on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis on the country’s border. Cardinal Koch says the pressing situations in the Middle East, including the persecution of Christians and other minorities, will clearly be a main issue in the conversation as both the Patriarch and the Pope are very engaged in these problems and they can raise a common voice against these situations.

Source: news.va (Nov. 29, 2014)