Pope urges healing of Catholic, Orthodox split

ISTANBUL - Pope Francis on Sunday launched a strong appeal to end the millenium-old schism between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches to bring them back into full communion, saying the conflicts in the world had made unity even more urgent.

"The one thing that the Catholic Church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome... is communion with the Orthodox Churches," the pope said after attending the celebration of a divine liturgy at the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches have been split since the schism of 1054 and it is only in the last decades that meetings between their leaders have restarted after a centuries-long freeze.

Alluding to the violence in the Middle East that has seen Christians persecuted by jihadists, Francis said the need for reconciliation had now become even more pressing.

"The cry of the victims of conflict urges us to move with haste along the path of reconciliation and communion between Catholics and Orthodox.

"Indeed, how can we credibly proclaim the message of peace which comes from Christ, if there continues to be rivalry and disagreement between us?" he said.