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Monday, November 29, 2004


VATICAN CITY, NOV 27, 2004 (VIS) - This morning in the Vatican Basilica, John Paul II presided at an ecumenical celebration during which he returned some relics of Sts. Gregory Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, bishops of Constantinople and Doctors of the Church, to Bartholomew I, ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

  The Pope and the Patriarch entered the basilica together while the choir sang "Ubi caritas est vera." After greeting the assembly, the Holy Father spoke about the ecumenical significance of the celebration.

  During the Liturgy of the Word texts from the Bible and the two saint-doctors of the Church were read.  The universal prayer was begun by the Pope and concluded by the Patriarch. 

  Before handing over the relics, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, read a letter from the Holy Father to Patriarch Bartholomew in which he recalled their meeting in the basilica on June 29, solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.

  The Pope writes that today, on the occasion of the return of the relics of Sts. Gregory Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, "The Lord...gives us the possibility to have here near the tomb of the apostle Peter another fraternal encounter of love, prayer and good will in order to walk together toward the full and visible unity that Christ wants for his disciples."

  The letter says that "in returning these holy relics we see a blessed opportunity to purify our wounded memories, to reinforce our path of reconciliation, to confirm the faith of the doctors of the Church and the faith of the Eastern and Western Churches.  We also see an auspicious moment to show with today's words and gestures the immense riches that our Churches conserve in their traditions."

  "This is a 'propitious moment,'" he exclaimed, " to pray that God will hasten the hour in which we will be able to live together, in the celebration of the holy Eucharist, full communion, and thus contribute in a more effective way to make the world believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord."

  "Beloved brother," concludes the Holy Father, "I will never cease to seek firmly and determinedly this communion among the disciples of Christ, as my desire, in response to the will of the Lord, consists in being servant of communion 'in truth and in love so that the ship - beautiful symbol chosen by the Ecumenical Council of the Churches as an emblem - may not be sunk by the storms and so that it may one day arrive in the port'."

  After the readings, the deacons approached the altar of confession and gave the relics to the Holy Father who kissed them and handed them to the Patriarch.  Bartholomew then thanked the pope.

  "This blessed gift," he said, "takes place due to a gesture of good will ... which deserves honor and thanks to His beloved Holiness.  You follow the example of St. Basil the Great who restored the relics of St. Dionysus, bishop of Milan, who died in exile."

  "A sacred act is celebrated today, which repairs an ecclesiastical anomaly and injustice. This fraternal gesture of the Church of ancient Rome confirms that insurmountable problems do not exist in the Church of Christ, when love, justice and peace meet in the sacred 'diaconia' of reconciliation and unity. ... Any act that heals old wounds and prevents new ones contributes to the creation of necessary proposals in order to continue the dialogue of truth in the love of our Churches."

  The relics of St. Gregory Nazianzus, who died in 390, arrived in Rome from Constantinople with a group of Byzantine nuns in the 8th century during the iconoclast persecutions of Emperors Emperor Leo III the Isaurian, and Constantine who denied the cult sacred images. Those who venerated these images were persecuted.  The relics were kept in the Roman Church of St. Mary in Campus Martius until Pope Gregory VIII asked the nuns to bring them to the Vatican Basilica in 1580 and they were placed in the altar of the Gregorian Chapel.  However, the pontiff wanted the nuns to preserve a relic from the saint's arm.

  The relics of St. John Chrysostom, who died in exile in 407, were moved to Constantinople on the orders of the Emperor Theodosius.  They remained there until the Latin empire of Constantinople, which lasted from 1204 to 1258, when they were transported to Rome.  In 1990, they were moved to the altar of the Chapel of the Choir in St. Peter's after its restoration.

  At the end of the ceremony, the Holy Father and the Patriarch blessed those present and processed to the Chapel of the Pieta, preceded by the deacons who were carrying the relics of the Doctors of the Church.

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