Pope, Orthodox patriarch pray together in Sistine Chapel, try to bridge differences

Vatican City - The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians prayed with Pope Benedict XVI in the Sistine Chapel and urged Roman Catholics and Orthodox to work together to combat fundamentalism and to promote religious tolerance.

Benedict praised his guest, Patriarch Bartholomew I, on the occasion of an Orthodox leader's first service in the chapel, which is famous for its frescoes painted by Michelangelo.

Bartholomew's participation in the Oct. 18 Vespers service and speech, in the chapel where popes are elected, is a "joyous experience of unity, perhaps not perfect, but true and deep," Benedict said.

The two men are eager to bridge a nearly millennium-long schism between the two churches, and see moral and social issues — including fundamentalism, religious intolerance, abortion, euthanasia and environmental degradation — as fertile ground for common initiatives.

The split between Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches centers on the primacy of the pope.

Bartholomew was invited to address bishops from around the world attending a meeting at the Vatican this month about the importance of the Bible. Cardinals and bishops listened attentively as the patriarch spoke about the potential for common initiatives between the world's 250 million Orthodox and more than 1 billion Catholics.

The Orthodox leader called it more imperative than ever for both sides to provide a "unique perspective — beyond the social, political or economic — on the need to eradicate poverty, to provide balance in a global world, to combat fundamentalism or racism and to develop religious tolerance in a world of conflict."