EUROPE/ITALY - Prayer vigil on the tomb of St. Nicholas, to ask for an end to the "war among Christians"

Monday, 19 December 2022 wars   peace   prayer   saints   ecumenicalism   area crisis  

Bari (Agenzia Fides) - "Peace is a gift that goes beyond human capacities: for this we need God's help because, as we see, we cannot do it alone", says Father Emmanuel Albano OP, director of the Ecumenical Centre "Father Salvatore Manna OP" at the Pontifical Basilica of St. Nicholas to Fides regarding the historic moment on the occasion of the prayer for peace that the Italian Bishops' Conference invites for December 21 at the tomb of St. Nicholas in Bari.
In the climate of tension caused by the armed conflict that is sowing death and destruction in the heart of Europe, the Dominicans who have been governing the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari for more than 70 years are proving every day that - as Pope Francis keeps saying - welcoming others and engaging in dialogue, even with those who hold a position different from one's own, is the only valid alternative to tendencies toward division and conflict, both in human relations and between States. "The Basilica," continues Father Emmanuel, "has never stopped welcoming all those who feel connected to the relics of the Saint. The Russian Orthodox community in Bari continues to regularly celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Basilica, as does the Ukrainian-Orthodox community. The tomb of Saint Nicholas is still visited today by individual pilgrims and communities, both of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches".
The traditional willingness of the Dominican Fathers to welcome everyone who comes to the tomb of the saint is revealed today in all its importance as a prophetic sign in the face of the unfolding events in Ukraine. Already during Lent it was decided to offer everyone a place to pray, to bring to the Lord the unanimous request for peace: "Instead of the ecumenical vigils that are normally held here in the Basilica with Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, we have decided this year to allow all Christian communities to have Vespers every Wednesday, a day traditionally dedicated to the devotion of Saint Nicholas in the popular tradition of Bari, to pray for peace", said Father Emmanuel.
The figure of the Holy Bishop of Myra (today in Turkey) is particularly important to the Eastern Churches, and in Russia he is venerated as one of the country's patron saints. When some fragments of the saint's relics were temporarily exhibited for veneration by the faithful in Moscow in May 2017 and in Saint Petersburg in July of the same year, around two million pilgrims from all parts of the country came to the two cities.
For centuries, thanks to the preservation of the relics of the saint and its geographical position, Bari has been a bridge between East and West and a special vocation of welcoming culture. Since March, the Municipality of Bari has launched relief efforts for Ukrainian refugees and numerous families in Bari have opened their homes to refugees. In recent years, the city of Bari has repeatedly become the hub of ecumenical dialogue between sister churches. On February 22, 2020, during the meeting with the bishops of the Mediterranean in the Apulian city, Pope Francis called Bari "capital of Church unity". At that time, the Pope had spoken prophetic words in St. Nicholas' Basilica, which are also relevant for today's Europe and for every war-torn region: "There is no sensible alternative to peace, because every project of exploitation and domination destroys the beneficiary and makes those who suffer equally ugly and reveals a short-sighted view of reality, depriving not only others of the future, but also oneself. War thus appears as the failure of every human and divine plan: it is enough to visit a country or a city that is the scene of a conflict to see how, because of hatred, the garden has turned into a desolate and inhospitable land and the earthly paradise turn into hell".
"The figure of Saint Nicholas reminds us that being an undivided Church, even at this historical moment, means above all recognizing that we are brothers and sisters and, despite our different views, kneeling together to pray for peace" , continues Father Emmanuel, "because peace is a gift that surpasses us, that surpasses all. It cannot be someone's victory, but is a grace that we must ask of God, because humanly speaking we are incapable of it
I believe that the tomb of St. Nicholas is a place where we can meet as brothers, as has happened in recent months with Ukrainian and Russian pilgrims, with whom we have asked again and again in prayer that the guns will stop and that we will return to dialogue".
The monk Nicholas, a contemporary of Emperor Constantine (274-337), who came from Asia Minor and was ordained bishop of Myra probably around the year 305 during the persecution of Diocletian, was credited with numerous miracles during his life and after his death, which increased worship in East and West. When the city of Antioch fell into the hands of the Seljuks in 1085, a group of sailors from Bari decided to take the saint's bones from the city of Myra, also to boost the economy of Bari, where Saint Nicholas was already considered the patron saint of Sailors was worshiped while saving his relics.
On May 9, 1087, the inhabitants of Bari solemnly received the mortal remains of the saint. Later he is known not only as Nicholas of Myra, but also as Nicholas of Bari.
Since 1951 the basilica has been entrusted to the Dominican Order. The religious community based there now consists of 18 brothers, whose prior and rector of the basilica is Father Giovanni Distante (OP). When Paul VI In 1968 decided to make St. Nicholas Church a papal basilica, he also appointed the Archbishop of Bari as Pontifical Delegate pro tempore. Archbishop Giuseppe Satriano, currently at the head of the archdiocese of Bari-Bitonto and Papal Delegate of the Basilica, announced on December 6 (the feast of Saint Nicholas according to the Gregorian calendar) the forthcoming prayer vigil, saying: "Saint Nicholas is also today nor for us and for all of Christianity, especially our brothers and sisters in the East, the bridge between heaven and earth to which we can entrust ourselves in difficult moments of great despair.In view of the war that has broken out between Christians in neighboring Ukraine, we cannot remain indifferent and must risk our lives to resolve the conflict that is bringing so much pain to the homes of Ukrainians and Russians [...]. Invoking peace is not the easy and comfortable attitude of those facing the history, but the most revolutionary act that history can know, since it requires the courage to disarm hearts of any form of pride and to seek that fraternity necessary to build a renewed humanity.
The prayer vigil on December 21 at the tomb of Saint Nicholas in Bari will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be led by Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, President of the Italian Bishops' Conference. (CD) (Agenzia Fides, 19/12/2022)