TEHRAN, Iran - The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, on a visit to Iran on Monday said Muslim and Christian leaders should work together to avert a clash of religions.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Iran's culture
minister, Bartholomew said a religious clash in the wake of the September 11
attacks on the United States would be ''a disaster for humanity'' without
distinction between Christians and Muslims.
''Religious dialogue is a divine gift and command from God,'' Bartholomew said. ''Our religions have many common points in faith. They teach us that God despises bloodshed.''
Bartholomew arrived in Iran on Friday for a four-day visit, which included leading mass at Tehran's Greek Orthodox church. His office said Iran was only the second Islamic country, after Bahrain, to receive him.
His patriarchate is based in the Turkish city of Istanbul, a leftover from when the city, then Constantinople, was capital of the medieval Byzantine Empire.
The patriarch was also due to meet Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but the meeting did not take place and no reason was given for the cancellation.
Bartholomew earlier met moderate President Mohammad Khatami, a mid-ranking Shi'ite cleric. The two discussed the need for a dialogue amongst religions, one of Khatami's pet projects.
Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ahmad Masjedjamei and the patriarch signed an agreement on exchanging scholars and students, holding festivals of religious films and organising cultural weeks in Iran and Greece.
Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of the 14 autonomous Orthodox churches which boast some 300 million followers.
Iran's mostly Shi'ite Muslim population of 65 million includes roughly 200,000 Christians, two-thirds of whom are Armenian Orthodox. There are fewer than 100 Greek Orthodox living in the country.