In a fraternal gesture Pope Francis asked for the blessing of Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who marked a historic moment in ecumenical dialogue by kissing the head of the Bishop of Rome. “At the end the Pope asked the patriarch to bless him, and the Patriarch kissed him,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi recounted to journalists in a Nov. 29 press briefing. “It’s not the first time, I already saw the Pope asking for the blessing of another brother, but this familiar way of the Patriarch kissing Pope’s head (is a first).” The emotional moment came at the end of a busy second day during Pope Francis’ Nov. 28-30 visit to Turkey. After celebrating Mass in Istanbul’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, the pontiff went on to pray Vespers with Patriarch Bartholomew in honor of the Nov. 30 feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, who is the patron and founder of the Orthodox Church. Special texts were written explicitly for the Pope’s visit. Once the Pope finished giving his address, he asked the patriarch for a favor: “to bless me and the Church of Rome.” He then bowed to receive the blessing and was embraced by the Patriarch, who traced the sign of the cross on the pontiff’s head and kissed it. “With this evening we are now in the ecumenical moment of brothers who pray together,” Fr. Lombardi said, noting how the Vatican is looking forward to the common declaration that will be signed by both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew tomorrow morning. The two have met several times before, including a shared moment of prayer in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher during the Roman Pontiff’s trip to the Holy Land in May, as well as at the Vatican in June for a an invocation for peace between Israel and Palestine. After the prayer finished, the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople had a private meeting, which lasted roughly 20 minutes. Pope Francis’ visit, made largely upon the patriarch’s invitation to participate in the celebration of the feast of St. Andrew, “is the continuation of the move of dialogue,” Fr. Lombardi observed.
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