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On his first visit to the United States, the religious leader of the world's Orthodox Christians led more than 20,000 worshipers Sunday in a Madison Square Garden service. Gov. Pataki, who has Greek roots, sat by the altar as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I sang the ancient liturgy.

"This is like the pope came here, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Demetria Karagounis, 25, of Queens, of the 57-year-old spiritual spokesman for about 250 million Orthodox Christians. He is based in Istanbul, Turkey.

She met the patriarch Friday, when he attended a breakfast at Manhattan's Tavern on the Green for hundreds of young faithful.

His 16-city, monthlong U.S. trip is to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in this country.

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