Pope Notes "Nostalgia for Unity" With Orthodox

Urges Italian Region to Continue Working for Communion

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The turning over of an Italian church to the Russian Orthodox patriarchate gives «nostalgia for unity,» says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this in a message sent to a ceremony Sunday in which Italian President Giorgio Napolitano gave the keys of the Church of St. Nicholas in Bari, Italy, to the president of the Russian Federation, Dmitriy Medvedev. Medvedev was later to give them to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, retired archbishop of Palermo, Italy, represented the Holy Father and read a message from him.

During the ceremony — originally due to have taken place on St. Nicholas’ feast, Dec. 6, 2008, but postponed due to the death that month of Patriarch Alexy II — the papal message recalled how the Russian people have never faltered in their love for «this great saint.»

The Pontiff noted how the church in Bari was built at the beginnings of the last century to welcome Russian Orthodox pilgrims, primarily on their way to the Holy Land.

«How could we not recognize that this beautiful church awakens in us the nostalgia for full unity and maintains alive in us the commitment to work for union among all the disciples of Christ,» he asked.

And he recognized that people of Bari and the surrounding region have «ecumenical sensitivity» as a one of their «characteristic traits.»

The Bishop of Rome noted his desire that this area will continue «offering its precious contribution to the path toward full communion among Christians.»

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill also sent a message to the ceremony, read by Bishop Mark, ad interim president of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate. Kirill held this position until he was elected patriarch in January.

The patriarch expressed his gratitude to the «Catholic diocese of Bari and the Dominicans who today care for the relics of the saint, for the constant hospitality offered to our pilgrims.»

He also thanked both the Russian and Italian authorities for making the change over possible.

For his part, Napolitano called the key of the church a «symbol of friendship between our countries and our peoples, of dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, of the commitment to strengthen the culture of peace with reciprocal understanding, with a growing closer between different cultural and spiritual traditions.»

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Full text of papal message: http://www.zenit.org/article-25247?l=english

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