Karekin I to Take Part in Religious Conference

VIENNA (Reuter)–His Holiness Karekin I–Catholicos of All Armenia’s will be among religious leaders participating in an upcoming meeting initiated by Pope John Paul and two heads of Christian Orthodox churches.

The historic meeting next month is being billed by Austrian media as the first of its type since the Great Schism split Christendom in 1054.

Church officials said on Friday discussions are under way for the spiritual leader of the world’s 960 million Roman Catholics to meet together for the first time the head of the Russian Orthodox Church–Alexiy II–and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Istanbul–Bartholomew I.

The meeting could take place on June 21 in the Austrian capital Vienna–officials said.

"Nothing is yet definite–but there are serious efforts being made…for the meeting to take place," the head of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference–Johann Weber–told the Catholic news agency Kathpress.

"It would be a great pleasure and honor for the Austrian Catholic Church and for the whole country if the three patriarchs were to meet here," Weber added.

Austrian President Thomas Klestil has been informed by the Holy See that efforts are being made to bring about such a meeting–a spokesman at the president’s office told Reuters.

"We expect to be informed by the Vatican in the next few days," the spokesman’said.

The Great Schism of 1054 split Christendom into Greek and Latin churches after a host of theological disputes.

Die Presse newspaper said it had been told by church sources that the three patriarchs would meet in Vienna’s 18th century Belvedere Palace–which now houses a collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt.

Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters in response to questions over the visit: "We do not have elemen’s either to confirm or deny this report."

The papal nunciature in Vienna would also neither confirm nor deny the report.

The Pope has made the quest for greater unity among Christians of different denominations the ambition of his pontificate in the buildup to the start of the new millennium.

Plans for the Pope’s first meeting with the Russian Patriarch during the pontiff’s visit to Hungary last year were dashed when Alexiy II decided to stay away

The Pope met the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew–spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide–at the Vatican in June 1995.

The summit of three patriarchs would be held two days before the opening of the second European Ecumenical Conference in the southern Austrian town of Graz.

More than 10,000 participants from churches across Europe are expected at the Graz conference–including Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey–who heads the 70-million-strong Anglican Church–and His Holiness Karekin I–spiritual leader of the world’s six million Armenian Christians.

Bartholomew I was already scheduled to begin an official visit to Austria on June 17 and would meet Klestil and Chancellor Viktor Klima.

The Russian Patriarch–whose church has experienced a revival since the collapse of communism and breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991–was also due to make a pastoral visit to his followers in Austria at the same time.

The orthodox leaders–who last met in March 1992 in Istanbul–were to hold talks in the former imperial Hofburg palace in Vienna on June 20.

Tensions between the two churches increased following the collapse of communism and came to a head over jurisdiction of the church in Estonia and other former Soviet states.

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