Patriarch, in Iran, calls for harmony of faiths

TEHRAN – Members of Iran’s Christian minority celebrated a mass yesterday conducted by the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios I addressed a congregation of about 100 people at the Greek Orthodox church in central Tehran, encouraging them to work for peace and harmony among faiths. Wearing a white robe and speaking in Greek, Vartholomaios blessed the worshipers in the candlelit church with holy water. At the end, worshipers filed past to kiss the hand of the patriarch, who is on the third day of his first visit to Iran. Congregants were given a loaf of bread and a cross as souvenirs. Afterward, Vartholomaios met Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami. No statement on their talks was issued immediately. Before leaving the church, the patriarch told The Associated Press that representatives of the world’s Christians, Muslims and Jews would meet in Istanbul, Turkey, next month «to discuss the role religion can play in countering terrorism.» He said the clerics would meet again in May in Athens. During his visit, Vartholomaios has emphasized the need for Christianity, Judaism and Islam to promote dialogue and peaceful coexistence, especially since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Vartholomaios said on Saturday that every era has people of «misguided self-confidence» who attribute to God decisions that are their own, «even their criminal actions.» Iran’s population of 70 million includes about 150,000 Christians, two-thirds of whom are Armenian Orthodox Christians. A church official, Olga Xanthopoulou, said yesterday was a «historic day for the Orthodox community.» «It’s the first time that the patriarch is leading a mass in our church,» she said.

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