By Spiros Sideris – Athens
In Turkey there have been positive developments in recent years during the Erdogan government, regarding religious freedom, but there is still much to be done, says in an interview with the Austrian newspaper “Couriers” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
In the same interview, when asked about the Schism of 1054 (which divided Christianity into Catholicism and Orthodoxy), Mr. Bartholomew notes that the restoration of the Schism and the reunification of the Church is a major duty of our time.
Regarding Turkey, the Ecumenical Patriarch highlights that among the most important concerns of the Church, are the recognition by the Turkish state as a body governed by public law, while the legal status of Christian churches and Christian citizens of Turkey should be clearly defined, since Christians in Turkey are also Turkish citizens and therefore should have equal rights to Muslim citizens.
According to the Ecumenical Patriarch, equally important is the concern for the reopening of the Theological School of Halki, which closure, as he stresses, is a great injustice.
Replying to a question about the connection from Ankara’s part of the reopening of the School with the construction of a mosque in Athens, Mr. Bartholomew rejects such a “transaction” as irrelevant, stressing that human rights and religious freedom cannot be part of a deal .
He continues saying that the reopening of the School has nothing to do with the Greek state, as it is Turkish citizens who requesting the opening and have no responsibility for the actions and decisions of the Greek government, which takes regardless of them.
Mr. Bartholomew stayed for six days in Austria, on the occasion and events for 50 years the Foundation “Pro Oriente” for Ecumenical Dialogue, in which he was guest of honor.
In an interview, the Ecumenical Patriarch, expressing, as he says, the great feeling of responsibility as head of the Orthodox Church for Christians in the Middle East, but also the great pain for their persecution in Iraq, Syria and other conflict zones in the world, he stresses the need to take every step possible for their support and protection from persecution, deportations and killings.
In relation to the Schism of 1054, Mr. Bartholomew notes that its restoration and the reunification of the Church is a major task of our time, and refers to the first steps initiated in this direction 50 years ago Pope Paul the Sixth and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, when the official Theological Dialogue between the Churches helped to eliminate misunderstandings and differences of opinion.
The Ecumenical Patriarch also refers to the meeting last May in Jerusalem with Pope Francis, as well as the exchange of visits every year between delegations of the two churches in Rome on the occasion of the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul and respectively on the occasion of the celebration of Apostle Andrew in Constantinople, where this year will be invited (from November 29) Pope Francis, while he regards institutions such as the “Pro Oriente” Foundation as a great help in promoting both theological and personal contacts.