WASHINGTON -- The spiritual leader of the world's 250 millionOrthodox Christians paid his first courtesy call on the Bushadministration Tuesday (March 5), commending the president on hisefforts to fight global terrorism and bring peace to the Middle East.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in his first official visit to theUnited States since 1997, also met with Secretary of State Colin Powelland said he received a "very warm reception."

"The president is very concerned about the situation in the MiddleEast," the 61-year-old patriarch said after his Oval Office meeting withBush. "He said much hatred still exists and he will continue his effortsuntil he is able to bring peace there and worldwide."

Wearing the flowing black robes and round clerical hat of anOrthodox hierarch, Bartholomew also sported American flag cuff links,which he said the president "liked very much."

Bartholomew met privately with the president and ArchbishopDemetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and his chief liaisonto the U.S. churches. He said the three discussed the role of theecumenical patriarchate, the plight of the Christian community in theMiddle East and his recent trips to Iran and Bahrain.

Bartholomew "was very clear in saying that he appreciates what thepresident and the United States do for promoting, on the one hand,tolerance and freedom and free communications and cooperation betweenreligion in general and also between the people," Demetrios said.

Demetrios said the meeting was characterized by "real, direct, humancommunication between two leaders who deal with very serious anddifficult problems."

After his meeting with Powell, Bartholomew said he was "very happyand very satisfied" after talking with the secretary about "the role ofreligion in order to eliminate religious fanaticism and terrorism."

During his six-day visit to the United States, Bartholomew is alsoexpected to meet with Roman Catholic leaders here and visit the HolyCross School of Theology outside Boston. On Friday (March 8),Bartholomew is scheduled to visit New York City, where he will make apastoral visit to the site of the former St. Nicholas Greek OrthodoxChurch, which was destroyed by falling rubble from the World TradeCenter towers.

Bartholomew has helped lead a global campaign to rebuild the tinyNew York church, with an initial pledge of $50,000.

There are an estimated 3 million Orthodox Christians in the UnitedStates among nine major ethnic churches.

Bartholomew, based in Istanbul, is the spiritual head of OrthodoxChristianity. Unlike the pope, he does not have doctrinal authority overEastern Orthodox churches, but is considered the "first among equals" inthe Orthodox hierarchy.

Born in 1940 to a Greek family on the Turkish island of Imvros,Bartholomew was ordained a priest in 1969 and consecrated a bishop in1973. For years he served as assistant to Ecumenical Patriarch DimitriosI until his death in 1991.
He was unanimously elected ecumenicalpatriarch just days after Dimitrios' death and was installed on Nov. 2,1991.