Two-kilometres-long lines, lasting an average of nine and half hours, along with numerous prayers, have accompanied over two million Russian pilgrims in the veneration, in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and in St. Petersburg, in the monastery of Aleksandr Nevskij, of a fragment of Saint Nicholas’ relics. In fact past May 21, for the first time in 930 years, the remains of the Bishop of Myra had temporarily left Bari’s Basilica that bears his name. On July 28 the relics of the Saint will be returned to Bari “escorted” by the President of the Pontifical Council for the promotion of Christian Unity cardinal Kurt Koch, by the Archbishop of Bari-Bitonto Francesco Cacucci, and by the prior of the Basilica Domenican Father.
“The experience in Russia extended beyond all expectations, marked by the warm reception of Russian religious authorities and of the population at large. The existing relationship based on friendship and brotherhood is bound to grow even further”,
said Monsignor Francesco Cacucci, who, with Father Capotosto and Father Angelo Romita, director of the Diocesan Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, was the protagonist of a unique event that ushers in new scenarios in the relations between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches.
Ecumenism, dialogue and peace. The past two months in Russia were characterised by an extraordinary gesture of dialogue between the Churches and between the peoples, fruit of the historical encounter in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill: “That meeting was a milestone – said Msgr. Cacucci -. But ecumenism has a future if it increasingly grows into the ecumenism of the people. If, instead, it remains confined to the leadership, I doubt it will deliver significant results. I think there has never been such a strong experience of ecumenism of the people as the one that took place thanks to the relics of Saint Nicholas, since the Council. This is the direction of the ecumenism of the future.” Now a new path involving the two Churches has been ushered in, but that path should be undertaken with many small gestures and with an equal amount of patience. “We still have to understand, together with the Patriarchate, which concrete gestures will lead to the advancement of our mutual friendship. However, this process should not be accelerated with sensational acts. I firmly believe that
Ecumenism is marked by small individual steps.
Making sensational acts doesn’t always facilitate a serene relationship between the two Churches: we ought to be realistic enough to consider that inside the same Churches, especially within the Russian Orthodox Church, there are various forms of opposition against certain visions of ecumenism.” However, it is strongly believed that dialogue is the right way to pave the road of peace: “May the dialogue that has further progressed between the two Churches be an example at all levels, not only at religious level”, Msgr. Cacucci pointed out. “Vladimir Putin himself underlined that the Churches play a crucial role in the détente at international level.. It’s pointless to deny it: religious relations are crucial also for world peace.”
The people are the protagonists. The significance of the relics extend beyond the act of veneration. “As Saint John Paul II said in the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint they cater to the encounter between Christians”, said Msgr. Cacucci. Hence they constitute a bridge establishing the definitive friendship between the two Churches. “This event – remarked Father Ciro Capotosto – has turned the people into the protagonists.
If the people are involved, they can act as a linkage for greater communion between religious institutions, namely, to spur the Churches’ leadership.
Thus we continue following the horizon traced in the famous encounter in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.” In the meantime the return of the relics will be welcomed by Bari’s population with a great celebration. “There is growing anticipation in the city of Bari, especially in the old part of the city – added Father Ciro – for the return of the relics of Saint Nicholas. We are involving all citizens and parishes of dioceses devoted to Saint Nicholas to ensure appropriate reception, similar to the one that took place in Russia.” Naturally there won’t be tens of thousands of faithful, as those that crowded the streets of Moscow past May 21, but the love shown by Russians towards Saint Nicholas and that of the faithful worshippers in Bari represent “a unique historical event – concluded the Dominican Father – enshrining a major yet humble significance, for, in its magnificence, a small seed was sown in the relations between Rome and Moscow, which will soon deliver its fruits.”