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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
The Pope taking radical steps to bring
all sheep back into fold.
Pope Francis begins mending the schism
with Orthodox Christians
by Shelby lin Erdman, Laura Smith-Spark and Hada Messia, CNN
Istanbul (CNN) -- Christianity is a religion frayed over the centuries
into many denominations. On Sunday, Pope Francis and the head of a major
one vowed to heal one of the church's oldest splits.
The Great Schism of 1054 separated the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox
churches. Both profess similar doctrine and worship in similar ways, but
a millennium ago, Eastern Orthodoxy rejected the ultimate authority of
Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I -- the spiritual leader of some 300
million Orthodox Christians worldwide -- signed a declaration on Sunday
committing to unity between the two churches.
Together, they celebrated a divine liturgy at the Patriarchal Church of
St. George in Istanbul on Francis' last day in the predominantly Muslim
nation -- his first trip there.
Somber intonations and hymns reverberated through the church as the two
spiritual leaders prayed and offered reflections and Francis tried to
Unity, not submission
Neither church will submit to nor assimilate the other, the Pope said in
his homily, but they will work "towards the restoration of full
"I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal
of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any
conditions except that of the shared profession of faith," Francis said.
He was at St. George's at the Patriarch's invitation, which he extended
shortly after Francis' inauguration.
Sunday's celebrations marked the feast of St. Andrew, the founder of the
Eastern Church. He was also the older brother of St. Peter, the founding
father of the Catholic Church .
'Blood of martyrdom'
In his part of the call for unity, the Orthodox leader alluded to
attacks by radical Islamists on Christians.
"We no longer have the luxury of isolated action," Bartholomew said.
"The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which church their
victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already
occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of
Over the past decade, first al Qaeda and then ISIS have forced
Christians to flee Iraq and Syria.
Far fewer Christians remain in areas under ISIS control. Some rely on
their faith in God; others pay terrorists a protection tax. Growing
numbers, especially from Syria, have ended up in Turkey.The nation is
reeling from the influx of around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the vast
Religion is also splitting Turkey. Opponents fear its conservative
government will weaken the secular identity of the post-Ottoman Empire.
Instability rages at its border, with ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi, announcing their intention to take over large swaths of
territory for their self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Fourth pope in Turkey
Francis is the fourth pope to travel to Turkey, following in the
footsteps of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The Pope was also expected to meet with young people from the Salesian
community from Turkey, the Middle East and Africa before heading to the
airport later Sunday. Salesians, the second largest Catholic order, help
orphans and at-risk children, according to their website.
On Friday, the first day of his visit, Francis called for religious
tolerance and dialogue to counter extremism in the Middle East, as he
met with Turkey's leaders.
"Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears, which
foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the
solidarity of all believers," he said.
The world is morally obligated to help Turkey care for the great number
of refugees it has taken in, Francis said.
Erdogan criticizes Islamophobia
In an address given in Francis' presence, Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan highlighted what he said was a disturbing trend of increased
racism and Islamophobia in the West, while Islamist extremism wracks
parts of the Middle East.
The world must come together if it wants to combat terrorism, he said.
The Turkish leader also suggested the West should not turn a blind eye
to abuses committed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while it pursues
The timing of the Pope's visit, in this period of unrest, is extremely
significant, Erdogan added, voicing hope that it would lead to an
"auspicious era" of improved relations in the world.
CNN's Arwa Damon and Christabelle Fombu contributed to this report