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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew holds private discussions with President Obama

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in discussion with President Barack Obama during the President's recent trip to Turkey. (The White House / Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama had a private meeting with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Conrad Hotel during the President's recent visit to Istanbul, Turkey. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America and the White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, were present at the meeting.

The meeting and ensuing discussion were marked by a spirit of warm cordiality and mutual respect. The substance of the discussions included His All Holiness' expression of gratitude to President Obama for his strong support of religious freedom and raising before the Turkish Parliament itself the issue of opening up Halki Seminary as a tangible sign of Turkey's commitment to enter the European Union. He also thanked the President for discussing these issues personally with Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul of the Turkish Republic. President Obama said he would follow up on these issues with a view to a favorable solution for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

His All Holiness made reference to the following points:
 

1. He made a convincing and passionate argument for the speedy re-opening of the Theological School of Halki, a basic need for the education and preparation of Clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

2. He emphasized the importance of religious liberty and the guarantee of same for all minorities of Turkey.

3. He stated his well-known and long time support for the efforts of Turkey to join the European Union.

4. He noted the significance of efforts made on behalf of the environment, adding information on his own upcoming Ecological Symposium in the U.S.A. (Mississippi River) in October of 2009.

5. He thanked President Obama for this meeting and for his active interest in the pressing issues of religious freedom and human rights for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the other minorities in Turkey.


His All Holiness mentioned that he had sent to the President, through the local U.S. General Counsel, an icon of the Prophet Baruch (patron of the President) with a handwritten inscription. He also congratulated the President for the championship victory of the University of North Carolina's Basketball Team, which the President had chosen to win.

"As the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we are much more optimistic about the opening of the Halki Seminary," His All Holiness said in a statement after the meeting. "The Halki seminary is not a matter of prestige for us. Opening this school is a true necessity for our patriarchate to fulfill its religious mission."

In a speech to the Turkish Parliament on Monday, President Obama said that re-opening the Halki Seminary would "send a strong signal inside Turkey and beyond" that Turkey respected freedom of religion and expression.

The European Union has urged Turkey to open the seminary, located on an island off the coast of Istanbul and shuttered for almost four decades, in order to meet its political criteria for membership. Turkey has argued that having a seminary in Istanbul would violate the country's secular order.