Pope Francis and Orthodox patriarch pledge support for Mideast Christians
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
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.