Vartholomaios hopes to meet Benedict soon

ISTANBUL (AP) – The spiritual leader of the world’s 200 million Orthodox Christians said yesterday that there are contacts between Turkey and the Vatican over a papal visit and he hoped to meet with Benedict XVI here soon. Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios I invited Benedict to Istanbul, where he is based, for the Orthodox feast of St Andrew at the end of November as part of efforts to breach a nearly millennium-old rift in Christianity. Vatican officials have expressed an interest in accepting, he said. «At this time there are some contacts being made between Ankara and the Vatican. It is my hope that these will end positively and that we will see our great guest in our country soon,» Vartholomaios was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency. «Most probably, he will come,» Vartholomaios added. Benedict has made healing of the Catholic-Orthodox rift a core goal of his papacy, saying, «The search for the full, visible union among all the disciples of Christ is seen as particularly urgent in our times.» The Orthodox and Catholic churches have been split since 1054 in large part because of disagreements over the primacy of the pope. «Since the popes are not only religious leaders, but heads of state as well, protocol demands that they also be invited by the Turkish government,» Vartholomaios was quoted as saying. Vartholomaios was speaking to reporters at the Istanbul airport before leaving for a visit to Greece. The power of the patriarch stirs intense feelings in Turkey, which recognizes Vartholomaios as the leader of Turkey’s tiny Greek Orthodox population – numbering less than 2,000 – but not as the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christianity. Turkish nationalists fear that recognition of the patriarch as an «ecumenical» leader would open the way for the creation of a Vatican-like independent state within Turkey.