The Jerusalem location of Pope Francis’s meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I was no coincidence: Commemorating the first summit between a Roman Catholic pope and ecumenical patriarch (the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians) 50 years ago after a millennium of schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, Sunday’s meeting was a reminder to Israelis and Palestinians that their battle, too, could have an eventual resolution.
“Every conflict comes to an end,” Rabbi Arthur Schneier told The Times of Israel shortly before the meeting on Sunday. The rabbi of New York’s historic Modern Orthodox Park East Synagogue for over 50 years, this is Schneier’s second time accompanying a pope on a visit to the Holy Land at the behest of the president of Israel — he also accompanied Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
A Holocaust survivor born in Austria in 1930, Schneier was formally invited to welcome Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew by President Shimon Peres, Chief Rabbi David Lau and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, but “I come to Israel voluntarily as well,” he quipped.
Schneier has been instrumental in interfaith outreach through his Appeal of Conscience Foundation since its founding in 1965. Schneier and Bartholomew began working together in 1993 to create peace and tolerance conferences, in connection with conflicts in Yugoslavia and elsewhere. They also attended funerals together after the 2003 suicide bombings in Istanbul.
“Bartholomew is a very warm, compassionate human being, with great respect for every human being. He has tremendous dedication to outreach and also has very much been in the forefront of inter-religious cooperation,” said Schneier.
Bartholomew, the archbishop of Constantinople, is the ecumenical patriarch, “the first among equals” among Eastern Orthodox bishops since 1991. Similar to Judaism with its system of chief rabbis throughout the Diaspora, the Eastern Orthodox Communion has bishops in heavily populated Orthodox Christian areas such as Moscow.
The Jerusalem meeting between Francis, the head of the Catholic Church and the bishop of Rome, and Bartholomew was hardly their first. The Ecumenical Patriarch was at Francis’s 2013 inaugural mass, marking the first attendance of a bishop of Constantinople at the installation of a bishop of Rome.
“Bartholomew is very committed to go beyond the confines of just the Orthodox churches,” said Schneier, who marks the second Vatican Council as the turning point in the Catholic Church’s relationship with both the Eastern Orthodox Communion and Jews “after centuries of anti-Semitism.”
“We have seen a progressive, evolving relationship,” said Schneier. “After 900 years you have in Jerusalem a pope and ecumenical patriarch!”