Orthodox patriarch in rare Rome visit for papal inauguration

The visit Tuesday by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to Rome to attend the inauguration of Pope Francis is a historic first, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians said.

"Even before the schism of 1054 (between Eastern and Western Christianity) the patriarch did not attend the inauguration of the pope," Bartholomew told Turkish channel NTV in statements picked up by Greek media.

"This gesture shows the importance which I attach to friendly relations between the two churches," said the patriarch, who has spent years working on inter-religious dialogue to improve relations with Rome.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which collapsed in 1453 when the city fell to the Ottoman Turks.

Bartholomew represents the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.