U.S. Christians Concerned about Patriarch's safety

NEW YORK, NY  -- The government of Turkey may wish to minimize the significance of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, but the National Council of Churches asserts that U.S. Christians regard Patriarch Bartholomew as "a world leader whose spiritual and moral authority has influenced us all."

While many U.S. Christians have known for years that the compound of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul is isolated and often threatened with violence, a CBS 60 Minutes interview with Patriarch Bartholomew in December raised the level of concern for his safety.

 During that interview, Bartholomew told CBS correspondent Bob Simon that Christians in Turkey are treated as "second class citizens" by the government.

Once the vanguard of early Christianity when the city was called Constantinople, Christians in Muslim Istanbul are now a tiny and beleaguered minority. The Ecumenical Patriarch receives threats against his life and the patriarchal compound is protected by walls and barbed wire.

Among the incidents of harassment attributed to the Turkish government is the arbitrary closing of the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary in 1971.

 The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches wrote February 17 to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express the Council's concern for the safety of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Christian minority in Turkey.

"We are grieved that (Bartholomew's) safety and freedom are constantly threatened," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, writing on behalf of the 36 member communions of the National Council of Churches. "And despite the many traditions and histories that our member churches bring to our council, we are emphatically agreed that a threat to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a threat to Christians everywhere."

 Kinnamon urged Clinton to use the moral authority of the U.S. to assure the safety of the Patriarch. "I am confident the safety of the Ecumenical Patriarch is as close to your heart as it is to ours," he said.

 In a letter to Bartholomew faxed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate today, Kinnamon said, "We have been deeply concerned for your safety and we want you to know of our constant support.