"The central part of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to Turkey is to continue his predecessors’ efforts to end the theological dispute 15 centuries ago that split the Christian world into the Roman and Orthodox churches.
Istanbul is the seat of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate, but over the centuries it has been home to both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian congregations.
At Istanbul’s Aya Strati church, the ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is concluding a service in the graveyard of the church - a ceremony to honor a buried saint.
Among those attending are many Greeks who have made a pilgrimage to Istanbul - or Constantinople, as they still call it. There is added excitement among the faithful over Pope Francis’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew, which could be a step toward reunifying the Roman and Orthodox churches in the future.
Father Vissarion, the deacon of the Patriarchal Church of Saint George, where the pope and the patriarch will celebrate Saint Andrew’s Day on Sunday, says “it’s better to feel that the two churches are coming closer together, instead [of being] separate continuously. That what we believe, I believe personally.”
Father Vissarion blames human failings for the ongoing schism but says there is now added urgency to the unification efforts.
“This comes from egoism, I think,” he said. “But it’s very painful, especially in this world in the 21st century when you see Christians persecuted in Middle East and elsewhere. The unity of the church is something that we try to find. We have to pray for that.”
Similar feelings can be found at the Catholic church of Saint George, the 14th-century home of Istanbul’s small Austrian Catholic community.
Father Franz Kangler welcomes reunification efforts, but says many theological questions need to be resolved, including who would lead a unified church."