Orthodox leader discusses religious freedom, climate change with Biden

Christine Rousselle   By Christine Rousselle for CNA

null / Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 26, 2021 / 13:40 pm (CNA).

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I discussed religious freedom and climate change with U.S. leaders on Monday in Washington, D.C., and announced an interfaith initiative to encourage vaccination against COVID-19.

After the Orthodox patriarch met with President Joe Biden on Monday, Oct. 25, the White House stated that the two leaders “discussed efforts to confront climate change, steps to end the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of religious freedom as a human right.”

Bartholomew also met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday. A State Department spokesperson said afterward that the two “discussed the U.S. commitment to supporting religious freedom around the world.” Their discussion also included the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey.

“Secretary Blinken reaffirmed that the reopening of the Halki Seminary remains a continued priority for the Biden Administration,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople since Oct. 22, 1991, is viewed as “first among equals” of the various Eastern Orthodox churches. On Monday, President Biden congratulated him on his 30th anniversary as patriarch, and Pope Francis in an Oct. 22 letter expressed gratitude for his “profound personal bond” with Bartholomew.

The 81-year-old Orthodox leader was hospitalized on Sunday as a precaution, after suffering from exhaustion upon arriving in the United States, but he was released on Monday. Bartholomew is scheduled to be in the United States until Nov. 3, and on Oct. 28 he will be receiving an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame.

The Orthodox patriarch also announced a new interfaith initiative to encourage COVID-19 vaccination on Monday.

After meeting with Biden, Bartholomew told the press that Biden is “a man of faith and vision” who “will offer to this wonderful country and to the world the best leadership and direction within his considerable power.”

Bartholomew said that he would be working alongside Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Muslim and Jewish leaders to encourage vaccination against COVID-19.

“We shall make an appeal to the whole world to facilitate the vaccination of everybody,” he said, emphasizing the need to vaccinate the world’s poorest, “so that everybody may be safe.”

“The president accepted our common initiative with great satisfaction,” he said.

Speaking with Secretary Blinken, the patriarch said that he was “grateful to the American administration, the administration of the United States, for the continuous support for the Ecumenical Throne and its ideas and values which we try to protect, struggling at the same time to survive in our historic seat in Istanbul.”

Bartholomew met with Biden ahead of Friday, Oct. 29, when Biden and his wife Jill will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.


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