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Papal trip is an ‘historic and symbolic’ milestone in the course toward reconciliation between churches

Pope Benedict XVI, who begins a visit to Turkey tomorrow, is the third successive head of the Roman Catholic Church to visit the Ecumenical Throne of New Rome in the Phanar district of Istanbul. The pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios are continuing an effort toward reconciliation that began at the end of the 1950s by their predecessors at the time, Pope John XXIII and Patriarch Athenagoras. A milestone in that effort was a meeting between Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in the Holy Land in 1964. Since then, despite occasional difficulties, the spiritual leaders of the Western and Eastern churches have recognized the need to resolve their differences through theological dialogue with the ultimate goal of achieving unity in the divided Body of Christ. In this interview he granted just a few days before receiving the pope, Vartholomaios referred to the course of the dialogue that was revived last September after a hiatus of six years. He discusses the issues that unite and those that divide the two churches, such as the Roman Catholics’ view of papal primacy and the thorny issue of the Uniats (who acknowledge papal authority but retain the Eastern Church liturgical rites). According to the patriarch, the pope’s visit to the seat of Orthodoxy is of great symbolic and historical importance. To those who would downplay its significance, he counters that it is «a decisive step in restoring normal and fraternal relations.»