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Orthodox Patriarch to meet Pope, discuss Ukraine February 03, 2004

Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the leading prelate of the Orthodox world, will visit Rome after Easter for talks with Pope John Paul II.

The talks between the Roman Pontiff and the Ecumenical Patriarch are expected to center on the status of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Orthodox leaders are keenly concerned about the desire of Eastern-rite Ukrainian Catholics to establish their own patriarchate.

Although the most heated opposition to the prospect has come from the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew has also written to Pope John Paul to express his opposition to a Ukrainian patriarchate. The Patriarch's letter, written in November of last year, has now been given higher visibility; since the beginning of 2004 the text (in Greek) has been posted on the official web site of Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In his letter to the Pope, Patriarch Bartholomew argued that the establishment of a Ukrainian Catholic patriarchate would "provoke strong reactions from all the sister Orthodox churches." He warned that the move could have damaging consequences for theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, which "is not in a critical phase." Patriarch Bartholomew urged the Pope to make it clear to the Ukrainian people-- Catholic and Orthodox alike-- that the Holy See "has no intention" of recognizing a Byzantine-rite patriarchate in Ukraine.

The exact dates of Patriarch Bartholomew's visit to the Vatican have not been settled. The Orthodox leader is scheduled to be in Rome for the formal dedication of the parish church of St. Theodore, which was handed over by the Rome Catholic diocese for use by the Greek Orthodox community of Rome. That church has been undergoing extensive restorations.

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