VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the message Benedict XVI sent to a ceremony Sunday in which the president of Italy turned over the keys to a Russian Orthodox church in southern Italy to the president of Russia.
The Holy Father was represented at the ceremony by Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, retired archbishop of Palermo, Italy, who read the message on the Pope's behalf.
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The Holy Father, Benedict XVI, who has asked me to represent him in this significant ceremony, sends his cordial greetings to the religious and civil authorities and to all those present, in particular to the president of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, to the president of the Russian Federation, Dmitriy Medvedev, to the ministers, to His Excellency Mark, "ad interim" president of the Department of External Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, and to the most excellent Monsignor Francesco Cacucci, pastor of this particular Church. He wants to renew, above all, his fervent best wishes to the patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia, His Holiness Kirill I, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten his demanding ministry.
The Pope is pleased at the fact that this building responds, here in Bari, to the devotion of the Russian Orthodox to St. Nicholas. The Russian people has never faltered in its love for this great saint, who has always supported it in moments of joy and in difficulties. This is witnessed also by this Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, built at the beginnings of the past century, to welcome the pilgrims who, in particular in their trips to the Holy Land, made a stop in Bari, a point of encounter between East and West, to venerate the relics of the saint. 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?
In truth, the history of Bari and of this region is marked in a profound way by the presence of the Eastern world, and ecumenical sensitivity is one of the characteristic traits of the populations of Apulia. Precisely because of this, the Holy Father Benedict XVI hopes that this ceremony too will contribute so that Bari continues being, as Pope John Paul II of happy memory said, a "natural bridge to the East," offering its precious contribution to the path toward full communion among Christians.
With these sentiments, invoking the intercession of the Mother of God and of St. Nicholas, the Pope renews his greetings to those present and sends them his blessing through my own.
[Translation by ZENIT]