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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits the Ecumenical Patriarchate

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew greets U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. (Photo by N. Manginas)

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On Sunday, April 21, 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for an hour-long visit at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Among those in attendance during the meeting were His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey, His Excellency Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, the Hon. Scott Frederic Kilner, U.S. Consul General in Istanbul, and Archon Laki Vingas, representative to the Turkish government for Minority Foundations.

Secretary of State Kerry assured His All-Holiness of the ongoing and unwavering support of the United States for religious freedom and the reopening of the Orthodox Theological School of Halki. “It is our hope that the Halki seminary will open,” Kerry said during a press conference in Istanbul. Both the United States and the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, have increased pressure on Ankara to re-open the seminary as well as introducing further rights for religious minorities in the new constitution it is currently drafting.

Mr. Kerry also remarked, saying “It’s such a privilege to talk with somebody who has been such a voice for tolerance, a voice for interfaith understanding, who most recently visited with His Holiness Pope Francis and was at his investiture, and who has consistently talked out about protecting rights of minorities, protecting religious rights, and who is struggling for larger understanding in the world.

“He is also an ardent environmentalist and has been honored by any number of universities, including our great University of Tufts in Massachusetts, with honorary degrees. He has a great following. I have many, many of his flock that I was privileged to represent for years in Massachusetts and have attended Orthodox services in Lowell, Massachusetts and other places, in Boston.

“So for me to visit here with this protector of the rights of people to practice their religion and to try to bring people together in interfaith understanding is a great, great privilege for me. And I want to thank you so much, Your Holiness.

“Thank you for my reception. And he gave me a beautiful rosary that the Pope gave him that’s been blessed by the Pope and by him, and I will carry that with great, great privilege.”

In turn, His All-Holiness expressed his gratitude to Mr. Kerry, while also conveying his fervent prayers for the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy and the people of Massachusetts.

The Ecumenical Patriarch accompanied Secretary of State Kerry to the Patriarchal Church of St. George and to the memorial gate of Patriarch Gregory V.

Mr. Kerry follows a long tradition established by former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has visited the Phanar on three occasions, followed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

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