On October 22, 1991 the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church unanimously chose him to be the Archbishop of Constantinople- New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch. The newly elected Patriarch had known Chiara Lubich in the years when he was a deacon studying in Rome and in the many visits Chiara made to Istanbul on visit to Patriarch Athenagoras and Patriarch Demetrius. He was present at several of those meetings and inherited from Athenagoras his zeal for unity of the Church, which Chiara ardently longed for.
Their spiritual friendship and communion grew over the years. The Patriarch visited Chiara at Gemelli Hospital in Rome and blessed her a few days before her death. In 2015 he visited Loppiano where he recieved the first “Culture of Unity” honorary doctorate from Sophia University Institute. A month later he was in Halki, Istanbul, welcoming the 34th ecumenical meeting of Bishop Friends of the Focolare.
Therefore, this anniversary is also an occasion of celebration for the entire Focolare family. It is difficult to summarize these “blest 15 years” of patient, dauntless, meek and generous toil,” as Maria Voce referred to them in her message. She expressed sentiments of “gratitude to God for the gifts that He had bestowed on this Patriarch who has been an illuminated guide for His Church,” but also for “engaging many others in thought and in concrete action (…) in favour of life, the Creation, dialogue, peace and universal brotherhood.”
There was great celebrating at the Patriarchal Church of Saint George in Istanbul which culminated in the Divine Liturgy. In modern Greek “efcharistó” is the word used to say “thank you.” And it seems nothing better could have expressed the thanksgiving to God for the gift that He has given to the Church and to the world in this man. In the presence of numerous metropolitans from several countries who are linked to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Apostolic Vicar Rubén Tierrablanca of Istanbul, and Mufti Dede Bektaşi from Albania – the Patriarch spoke about these years, in words full of humility and gratitude.
Msgr Nicholas Wyrwoll presented a summary of the past quarter of a century under the guidance of the Patriarch: “Many things changed. Bartholomew is now overwhelmingly recognized as the Ecumenical Patriarch, a title that could not be mentioned even within the liturgy.
The change in the Holy Synod was noteworthy, which is the most important governing body of the Byzantine Church. Previously the members came from all of Turkey, now they come from the entire world and alternate every six months. He was able to involve the small remaining Greek community in Turkey and the Turkish authorities in the restoration of many churches and monasteries, cherishing and preserving the Christian patrimony of that land. He has shown concern for the protection of Creation. He has collaborated with all the religions. He is a world leader that is listened to. In the homily the Patriarch underscored the importance of dialogue and of communion: “We are from different cultures, different histories, different experiences,” he stated “a common expression of the faith is not to be found with words, but with prayer in common.” He also extended warm greetings to the Mufti from Albania.
He convened the Panorthodox Synod in Crete. With this Patriarch, the quest for unity within the Church, especially with the Roman Catholic Church, has gone ahead in leaps and bounds.