Pope Francis joined Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in an historic joint prayer for Christian unity at Christianity's holiest site in Jerusalem today (May 25, 2014), the AFP (Agence France-Presse) website reports.
They met at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside the walled Old City after signing a landmark pledge to work together to further unity between the eastern and western branches of Christianity, which divided Christianity almost 1,000 years ago.
The meeting has been billed as the main reason for the pope's three-day trip to the Middle East, which ends on May 26. It commemorates the historic rapprochement between both branches of the Christian Church 50 years ago, when Pope Paul VI met and embraced Patriarch Athenagoras -- the first significant easing of tensions between the Churches since the Great Schism of 1054, which split the Christian Church into Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox divisions.
Both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew knelt side by side in prayer on the rough Stone of the Anointing, where the body of Jesus was laid before burial, removing their headgear as they did so. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built on the site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Earlier, the two church leaders signed a joint pledge to pursue common dialogue, which reaffirmed values common to the Catholic and Orthodox churches. "Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity...of communion in legitimate diversity," says the declaration which was signed in the presence of representatives of 13 Catholic and Orthodox churches in Jerusalem.