Will Ask For Keys to Orthodox Church in Bari

ROME, MARCH 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Benedict XVI might help progress Vatican-Orthodox relations, says the director of Rome's Russian Ecumenical Center.

Putin will meet the Holy Father in the Vatican on March 13, confirmed Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office.

Father Sergio Mercanzin told ZENIT that an opportunity for the Church to advance relations with the Orthodox will happen on March 14, when Putin is scheduled to visit the southern Italian city of Bari.

The president will ask Bari's civil authorities, in the name of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, to hand over possession of the Church of St. Nicholas, as well as the adjacent hospice.

The church and hospice were built in Bari by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1913. Throughout the second millennium Bari has been the object of pilgrimages for Russian Orthodox, who have great devotion to St. Nicholas.

The church was purchased by the city in 1937 in rather unclear circumstances. At present, the municipality has allowed the use of the church for Orthodox liturgical services.

Father Mercanzin said that Putin's request for the hospice will be more difficult. To succeed in his objective, he said, the president might request the Vatican's intercession before the Bari authorities.

The director of the center, dedicated to the promotion of Orthodox spirituality and art, added: "Relations between the Holy See and the patriarchate have taken good steps lately. The visit might promote them."

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