His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is visiting South Italy on 1-7 December 2016. On 1 December, he participated in an ecumenical prayer at the cathedral of Lecce where he delivered a brief homily⇒, in which he described his visit as a pilgrimage “to meet the brothers in the West, to hug their children that live here and give witness of Christian love, and to breathe together friendship and dialogue with all”.
On 2 December 2016, the Ecumenical Patriarch received a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Salento. In his lectio magistralis⇒, he referred to the encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete 2016) relating to three main challenges for humanity today: globalization, violation of human rights and religious fundamentalism. Bartholomew stressed that “A human being is not only a citizen of the world, but also a citizen of heaven, full of longing for eternal life”. According to him, “Orthodoxy is called to serve as a prophetic voice to provide an alternative model of life, to propose a freedom shared or common in a globalized world”.
On 5 December 2016, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received the Ecumenical Prize “Saint Nicolas” during the inauguration of the academic year the Theological Faculty of Puglia at the Basilica of Saint Nicolas in Bari. This city is a centre of co-existence and a bridge between Eastern and Western Christians since the relics of Saint Nicolas have been kept there for over 1000 years. Bari is until now a centre of pilgrimage for both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch coincided with the feast of this major ecumenical saint, whose relics were venerated by the Patriarch.
In his lectio magistralis⇒, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew reminded his auditory that “the Mediterranean is a sea of dialogue, not a tomb”. He spoke against fundamentalism and intolerance, an advocated for an “economy of communion” that knows how to welcome migrants and reach out to the poor. He also referred to the synod in Crete not only as “an example of communion” but a “sea of communion for the entire Orthodox Church and for the world”. The lecture focused on communion especially its theological significance, as well as sharing, dialogue, integration:
“Communion is a joint participation in grace, love and communion in God’s life, which becomes the very experience of ‘being in a relationship’. It means participating in divine nature, through the grace granted to us by God in all aspects of Christian life. It means sharing in the faith, sharing spirituality, praying for each other, it means making this communion concrete in our lives, practicing it. So, if we are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, if we are intimate with Him, we perceive our brothers and sisters as people who belong to us, who share in our Trinitarian origins and we walk towards the same destination which is Christ, who encapsulates everything”. According to Bartholomew, “Trinitarian love turns us into people who relate to one another, communional subjects, connatural in dialogue, capable of a loving relationship that transfigures our egos, making us capable of acting and thinking that peace stems from dialogue and dialogue leads to unity.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch also underlined the ancient and peaceful co-existence between Greeks and Latins in the Puglia region. A cradle of history, civilisations, languages, cultures and religions capable of interconnections and exchanges that influenced social processes throughout the entire area for centuries, contributing to the growth of the peoples in the Mediterranean. He reminded that even today, one cannot be in a relationship with God and our suffering brothers and sisters without putting the human and social proposals of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church into practice and nurturing the principles of dialogue, love and peace before a “Mediterranean that has turned into a grave for many of our brothers and sisters who dreamed of a better life”. Therefore, he stated: “We believe that the role of religions is fundamental in creating, launching and consolidating the principle of communion for collaboration and mutual understanding, eliminating the fundamentalist mind sets found in all societies and religions. There is a need for mutual respect among peoples, overcoming mistrust, violence, massacres and genocides. Social justice and justice among nations must prevail over the mere interests of the world economy and uncontrolled globalisation, in order to put an end to rampant migration”.
The ecumenical importance of Bartholomew’s visit is furthered by the conviction that every local Church must commit to ecumenism. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has led the Orthodox Church in a spirit of charity and diakonia since 1991, tirelessly pursuing Christian unity and peace. The “substantial recognition” which the diocese of Bari conferred upon Bartholomew, was reiterated in Pape Francis’ message as a “sign of gratitude for his service in promoting ever closer communion between all of Christ’s followers”. The Patriarch welcomed this sign as “prophetic of the unity of all of God’s Holy Churches,” underlining the theological journey “between our Churches and love, respect and collaboration”.