(RNS) President Obama met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians, on Tuesday (April 7) in Turkey, where they discussed religious freedom and the opening of an historic seminary closed by Turkish authorities.
Bartholomew “made a convincing and passionate argument” for re-opening the Theological School of Halki, according to a statement released by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the American archdiocese, also attended the meeting.
Bartholomew is based in Istanbul, although many Orthodox still refer to it as Constantinople, its name until 1930.
Turkey closed the Halki seminary, which was the patriarchy’s main theological training ground, in 1971, when the country nationalized all secondary schools. Halki’s leaders refused to become part of the state system.
Obama urged Turkish lawmakers to reopen Halki in a speech Monday in Ankara, saying it will “send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond.”
Religious leaders, including Bartholomew, have often complained about restrictions on religious practices in Turkey, a secular state with a majority-Muslim population.
Bartholomew discussed religious freedom with Obama on Tuesday, stated his support for Turkey to join the European Union and praised efforts to save the environment, according to the statement. He also congratulated the president on correctly picking the University of North Carolina’s basketball team as champions of the NCAA tournament.
By Daniel Burke
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