Italy returns Orthodox church to Russia

Italy on Sunday returned ownership to Russia of an Orthodox church named after St. Nicholas in a goodwill gesture toward Moscow and the Orthodox faithful.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev traveled to the southern Italian city of Bari for the hand-over, which was aimed at boosting ties between the two countries and improving often-tense Roman Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations.

Surrounded by frescoes and icons depicting the saint, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano handed Medvedev a key to the church, calling it “a symbol of friendship between our countries and our people, and a symbol of the historic dialogue between the Catholic church and the Orthodox church.”

Russia built the church in the early 20th century to welcome its pilgrims who traveled to Bari, on the heel of boot-shaped Italy, 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.

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