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Pope Francis and Orthodox patriarch pledge support for Mideast Christians
01-12-2014

ISTANBUL: Pope Francis on Sunday joined forces with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to make a rare joint pledge of support for the embattled Christians of the Middle East.

On the final day of his first visit to Turkey, Pope Francis also urged an end to the millennium-old schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches and said this was all the more urgent due to the violence against Christians by Islamic State (IS) extremists.

The trip of the Pope to Istanbul - once the capital of the Christian Byzantine world and formerly known as Constantinople - has been marked by his overtures to reach out both to Muslims and other Christian confessions.

He left aboard the papal plane in the early evening, also finding time to address around 100 refugees displaced by the violence in Iraq and Syria.

The pope early Sunday attended a divine liturgy led by Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the “first among equals” of an estimated 300 million Orthodox believers.

In a joint declaration, Bartholomew and the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics pledged to support Christians in the Middle East, saying they could not let Christianity be driven out of the region.

“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years,” the church leaders said.