Pope Francis issues call for unity
Pope Francis appealed for unity between the Catholic and Orthodox churches today as he wrapped up his visit to Turkey with a liturgy alongside the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians and a meeting with young refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Hypnotic chants and incense filled the Orthodox Church of St George as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Francis marked an important feast day for the Orthodox Church.
The Catholic and Orthodox churches split in 1054 over differences on the primacy of the papacy and there was a time when patriarchs had to kiss popes' feet.
At the end of a joint prayer service last night, Francis bowed to Bartholomew and asked for his blessing "for me and the Church of Rome," a remarkable display of papal deference to an Orthodox patriarch that underscored Francis' hope to end the schism.
In his remarks today, Francis assured the Orthodox faithful gathered in St George's that unity would not mean sacrificing their rich liturgical patrimony or "signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation".
"I want to assure each one of you gathered 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," he said.
Bartholomew, for his part, noted that Christians are being persecuted across the mid-east regardless of their particular confession, a reference to the Islamic State (IS) attacks on religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.
"The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which church their victims belong to," he said.
"The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrs."
Francis was to meet later with a few dozen young refugees being cared for by the Salesian religious order.
The Vatican had downplayed the meeting, perhaps because of organisational glitches or to not distract from Francis' ecumenical activities which were the main reason for the visit.
But just before the trip began, the Vatican revealed that he would indeed deliver a speech to the youths.
The absence of a dedicated visit had raised eyebrows given that refugees are a primary concern for Francis, and he met with Syrian and Iraqi refugees during his Jordan visit in May.
Turkey is currently hosting some 1.6 million refugees who were forced to flee their homes by IS, which is grabbing up chunks of territory in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.