Last May I had the privilege of traveling to Istanbul, Turkey. We were heading there to profile the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I. I didn't know very much about him. For one, I always assumed the heart of the Orthodox Church was in Athens, Greece. Finding out it was in Istanbul, Turkey was the beginning of my history lesson.
My knowledge of Greco-Turk relations was also very thin and so learning about the fragile position the Orthodox Church finds itself in, in a country that is 99 percent Muslim was also an eye opener. As with all stories done on "60 Minutes" the first step is research; some stories require more than others and this one involved 17 centuries worth of research! I knew that I was going to see Istanbul; Cappadocia in Eastern Turkey, the Sinai in Egypt and our trip would end in Jerusalem. Overall our story was about the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and the position of Christianity in the part of the world where it all began.
Seeing Istanbul for the first time is like walking into a giant museum; not only is it a beautiful city, but you somehow get a sense that things happened there a very long time ago. Turkey in general is a beautiful country with lovely people and such a rich culture. So I constantly had to remind myself that our story was about a controversial issue in Turkey which had to do with a minority of people - Turks of Greek ancestry - whose presence had gone from a population of nearly 2 million in the early 1920s to only 4,000 today. The story was ultimately about discrimination and the lack of religious freedom on the part of the Turkish government. Our profile of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was to be his first on a major American television network and his candor, calm and determination are qualities to be appreciated considering the risk he took in speaking with us.
A slight man in stature, his presence is that of greatness. My first encounter with him is one that I will never forget. I was filming some shots with my camera crew at the Phanar - the Church's headquarters in Istanbul - when someone from His All Holiness's office came to us stating that The Patriarch wanted to meet us right then and there. Because this meeting was not to happen until that evening, I didn't feel I was appropriately dressed to meet him right then and there. We are so focused on people's perceptions of first impressions that I feared his first impression of me wouldn't have been so positive. I felt - and was - underdressed to meet such a person of his stature, but of course I couldn't exactly say 'no, I'd rather go back and change and meet him later.' So here I am feeling both nervous and shy, walking through these lovely corridors and through two doors.
I walk in and up from his desk Patriarch Bartholomew walks towards me, with his hand out to shake mine and as soon as I felt him, I simply begin to weep. Rarely have I felt someone exude so much goodness, and he just held my hand for what seemed to be a good, long while in the most reassuring way. I composed myself and was invited to sit down.
Someone brought in a treat called "Mastica" which was a sweet, white paste on a spoon in a glass of cold water. I watched as the others began licking their spoons, so I followed and as the Patriarch was licking his, I couldn't help but think that here we are, so relaxed and this man is fighting a battle of survival, the survival of his church. It was really quite surreal.