Bartholomew, the bishop of Constantinople - New Rome and spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, is in the Holy Land to meet with Pope Francis in Jerusalem, sign an accord with the pope and mark 50 years since the first meeting between a Pope and an Ecumenical Patriach since the Great Schism of 1054. As the Second Vatican Council was winding down in 1964, Pope Paul VI met with Bartholomew's predecessor Ecumenical Patriarch Athenogoras in Jerusalem. The meeting began the modern process of ecumenical dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
Patriarch Bartholomew met with Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun and Palestinian Authority Minister of Tourism Rula Ma'aya on the square before moving in procession from in front of the partially constructed stage to the Church of the Nativity.
Inside the church, Bartholomew visited the grotto where Catholics and Orthodox both believe Christ was born. Coming up from the grotto, Bartholomew took his seat on the presidential chair before the iconostasis with Baboun to his right. Prayers and a homily would follow.
The majority of more than 51,000 Christians living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are Orthodox, largely Greek Orthodox.