Italy Embraces Patriarch of Constantinople

Orthodox Leader Welcomed in Calabria

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ROME, MAR. 21, 2001 ( The patriarch of Constantinople is receiving a warm welcome in Italy´s southern region of Calabria, during a visit which officials said could help overcome the 1,000-year schism between Rome and the East.

Patriarch Bartholomew I received honors befitting a head of state as he toured Calabria. The patriarch´s visit, which began Monday, will culminate Thursday in an ecumenical prayer meeting that is part of the events of the fourth congress of the local Catholic Churches of Sicily.

«I am happy to be able to visit this land, a crossroads between the Western and Eastern world,» the patriarch said. As «primus inter pares» among Orthodox bishops, the patriarch is a symbol of the communion of the Orthodox Churches. «I think this visit will be a contribution to a new rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox,» he added.

The Catholic Church described the patriarch´s visit as «a historic event,» to quote Archbishop Antonio Cantisani of Catanzaro, president of the bishops´ conference of Calabria. This was the first time that the most important leader of the Orthodox Christian world set foot in this region, which at one time was part of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Bartholomew I spoke in perfect Italian, a language he learned when he studied canon law at the Gregorian University in Rome. No sooner he was named ecumenical patriarch in 1991, he established the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy, in the hope of revivifying the Orthodox presence in the West.

The patriarch of Constantinople has jurisdiction over a few thousand Orthodox Christians, a flock spread primarily over what today is Muslim Turkey. The fact that the community is small, gives the patriarch more time and freedom to assume an international role and, in particular, to gather the Orthodox of the diaspora around the patriarchate.

This was the purpose of the patriarch´s visit to Italy. It presupposes the «culmination of a long period of rediscovery of the Greek-Orthodox roots in this region,» said Archimandrite Nilos Vatopedino, vicar general for the Calabrias of the Italian Orthodox Archdiocese.

The Catholic Church has supported the Orthodox who live in these European
Catholic countries. The Pope has just given the patriarch a church in Rome so
that his faithful can have a place of meeting. Some currents of the different
Orthodox Churches, however, deny Catholics the right to evangelize in Orthodox lands.

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