Looted Orthodox relics return home

Relics of two Byzantine saints, stolen by Crusaders from the empire’s capital 800 years ago, were returned to the modern city of Istanbul on Saturday after being handed over to Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios by Pope John Paul II. The solemn handover in St Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican earlier in the day, of the bones of St Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom was described as an act of reconciliation between the Catholic and the Greek Orthodox churches, which split in 1054. The 1204 sack of Constantinople – now Istanbul – by western troops during the Fourth Crusade added to the hostility between the two churches. John Paul, in statements read by an aide, called the ceremony «a blessed occasion to purify our wounded memories.» In Istanbul, the relics of the two former patriarchs were carried in a procession to the Cathedral of St George, where hundreds of worshipers flocked to celebrate their return. Yesterday, Vartholomaios told a congregation that he hoped the saints would protect the city’s dwindling Christian population «from bomb attacks and from foolish demonstrations» by Turkish ultranationalists. He was referring to incidents targeting the Patriarchate earlier this year.