Italy is returning ownership to Russia of an Orthodox church named after St. Nicholas in a goodwill gesture toward Moscow and the Orthodox faithful.source
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev traveled to the southern Italian city of Bari for the hand-over ceremony later Sunday, which aims to boost ties between the two countries as well as improve often tense Roman Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations.
Russia built the church in the early 20th century to welcome its pilgrims who traveled to Bari to pray near the relics of Nicholas of Myra, a fourth-century saint associated with Christmas and much revered by Russian Orthodox faithful.
His remains are kept in the crypt of the nearby Catholic Basilica of St. Nicholas, where Orthodox rites also are celebrated.
The Russian church became the property of the city of Bari in 1937 as the number of Russian Orthodox pilgrims dwindled following the Bolshevik revolution. Its surrounding complex was used to house Russian emigres and some city offices.
"With this act, another wall falls," said the Rev. Vladimir Kuciumov, the church's rector. "Years ago we had the Berlin Wall, now we witness the fall of a wall that divided Catholics and Orthodox, Italians and Russians."
The restitution is expected to boost tourism to Bari from Russians, who lately have flocked to Adriatic beach resorts further north on Italy's east coast. It will also consolidate Bari's traditional image of a bridge between East and West.
"We will become the key place for the construction of political, economic, cultural and religious ties between Italy (and Russia)" mayor Michele Emiliano predicted.