.- Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey, from Nov. 28 to 31, will be a welcome opportunity to help improve relations between the Christian churches.
Bartholomew, who heads a church of 200 million Orthodox Christians, said on Thursday that he looked forward "with frank joy, love, and honor" to the pontiff's visit, The Associated Press reports.
One of the main reasons for the trip is a meeting between the two prelates in Istanbul, which serves as the seat of the patriarch. The two churches split in 1054 after disputes over papal authority and creed.
"It is preferable that those who bear the name of Christian ... should maintain good relations and peaceful communication and dialogue rather than have hostile relations and quarrel with each other," Bartholomew said in Athens during an eight-day visit to Greece.
Bartholomew addressed the criticism from some Orthodox, who consider the Pope a heretic.
"There can be no constructive dialogue with a person whom we exclude in advance by calling him a heretic," he reportedly said. "Even if he is a heretic in conscience, our first and second meeting with him must be ... a friendly exposition of the truth and not an admonitory or condemnatory judgment."
Bartholomew also urged peaceful coexistence with non-Christian religions.
"We religious leaders have a duty to proclaim that conflict and war are not part of our religious duties, that there are peaceful ways of overcoming differences and that those who maintain the opposite do not express God's true will," he said, echoing some of the Pope’s previously expressed sentiments.