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Prelate Urges Harmony

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

From a speech in Beverly Hills before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council to a walk through an inner city neighborhood where Latino children threw flowers in his path, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians brought his American pilgrimage to Los Angeles on Friday.

Calling for breaking down religious and cultural barriers that separate people in both the inner city and the rest of the world, His All Holiness Bartholomew I of Constantinople took note of Los Angeles as the City of Angels.

“We are, each of us, angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing each other,” he told an estimated 400 children and adults at Berendo Middle School in the Pico-Union district.

Earlier, in his Beverly Hills remarks, Bartholomew had also pressed his case for an active role among Orthodox churches in mediating disputes at the national and international levels between cultures and nations.

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This “clash of civilizations” has become more apparent, he said, “as the frontiers between the Muslim and Christian worlds begin to dissolve before global political and economic forces.”

The fall of communism in Eastern Europe, he added, has given rise to heightened nationalism, cultural pride and rekindled religious zeal long suppressed by totalitarian governments. But he said such forces can create unexpected geopolitical tides with a power all their own.

Orthodox churches are uniquely positioned to help mediate disputes because they are on the cusp of Western and Eastern civilizations where Europe meets Asia, he said.

Repeating a theme sounded last week in an address at Tufts University near Boston, Bartholomew offered the services of his church to help bring about understanding.

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“We are committed to not allowing the tides of history, often scarred by acts of unimaginable human evil, to sweep away the past, present and future glories of human endeavor,” he said to the World Affairs Council. “Recognizing the power of religious faith to contribute to the positive encounter of different cultures will go far in bridging this new cultural divide.”

That divide is more than apparent in Pico-Union--designated by the city as the “Byzantine-Latino Quarter” of Los Angeles, where Spanish-speaking schoolchildren waving flags of the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica cheered the black-robed prelate as he emerged from a white limousine. Others waved from fire escapes of low-rent apartments, shouting welcomes in Spanish and English.

One flag-waving student, Jonathan Gutierrez, 13, said enthusiastically, “If I meet him, I’ll say, ‘Welcome to beautiful Berendo!’ ”

Bartholomew’s visit was particularly welcomed by Esther Rivera, the school’s principal. “He has come to be a part of a community that is poor, has gangs, drugs and violence, yet Berendo School is a safe haven,” she said. “He’s come to be a part of us and join hands to promote peace.”

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St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, several blocks away, has begun to buy school uniforms for the students in an anti-gang initiative. The cathedral has also teamed up with St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church to promote improvement of the neighborhood.

Taking a cue from the cooperation between the two parishes, Bartholomew called for cross-cultural and religious efforts to renew neighborhoods wherever people find themselves.

“The reality and holiness of the kingdom of God must begin here on Earth with each and every one of us,” he said at the school. “We can no longer create or maintain artificial barriers that separate us from the reality of our shared life.”

As Mayor Richard Riordan listened, Bartholomew added: “Here in the great inner city of Los Angeles, the City of Angels, we have much to accomplish to merit this angelic designation.”

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Bartholomew is also known as the ecumenical patriarch and heads the mother church of Orthodox Christianity. Of the nine Orthodox patriarchs, each with his own self-governing church, Bartholomew is considered the “first among equals” because his church was founded by St. Andrew the Apostle, the first-called disciple of Christ, in AD 36.

Among those who joined Bartholomew on his walk from the school to St. Sophia was the Rt. Rev. Chester L. Talton, suffragan (assistant) bishop in the Los Angeles Episcopal diocese.

Talton called Bartholomew’s visit “a sign that the church is reaching out and speaking in a loud voice for the inclusion of all people.”

Los Angeles’ religious diversity was evident at the World Affairs Council luncheon. Bartholomew sat between Rabbi Harvey J. Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the Rt. Rev. Frederick H. Borsch, the Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles, who introduced the patriarch. Later, Bartholomew was scheduled to meet privately with Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles.

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Foreshadowing remarks he is expected to make today in Santa Barbara, Bartholomew also offered a theologically based defense of the environment as part of what he called God’s creation. And he said he accepted the title of “green patriarch” that some have given him.

“If this appellation signifies our abiding concern for bringing about responsibility in the global community for our shared resources, then we accept it gladly,” he said to applause from several hundred who attended the Beverly Hills luncheon.

* RELATED STORY: B4


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