A moving event at the church of Saint Apollinaris in Ravenna

An Italian navy ship had anchored outside San Marco to pay its respects. The distinguished guests slowly began to arrive as the clock approached seven in the evening at the Palazzo Ducale, the official heart of Venice. The unique hall, full of frescoes by great artists of naval battles between Christians and «infidels,» was already full by the time Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and his entourage appeared at the end of the piazza. Arriving at the entrance to the ducal palace, someone stopped the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church and said: «Your Holiness, you must see this.» It was an epigraph on a stone archway which shows that this beautiful old building is «opus Bartolomei», «the work of Vartholomaios.» «Do you think it might be my work?» asked the patriarch, with a smile. To which came the response, «No, your work in this building will start shortly.» Soon the patriarch entered the hall. Cardinal Etchegaray, chairman of the papal council of justice and peace, beamed with delight, as did Cardinal Kasper, chairman of the papal council for the promotion of Christian unity. Equally delighted were all the other Catholic hosts who greeted Vartholomaios in Ravenna and Rome and the participants in the fourth symposium on «Religion, Science and the Environment,» which this time dealt with the topic of «The Adriatic: A Sea in Danger.» Previous symposia have dealt with the Aegean and the Apocalypse, the Black Sea and the Danube. The Orthodox clergy who accompanied the patriarch were also overjoyed. Among those present were Anastasios, archbishop of Albania, Ioannis, bishop of Pergamum, Ignatios, bishop of Dimitriada and Tarasios, bishop of Buenos Aires. The Greek state was represented by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who read the Credo and the Paternoster at the mass in Ravenna. It was natural. The joint signing of the Declaration of Venice by the pope and the patriarch on June 10, via a satellite hook-up between Venice and the Vatican, was one of the most historic events in the modern history of relations between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches. «We have gathered here today in a spirit of peace, for the good of all humanity and to care for nature,» is the opening sentence of the Venice Declaration, which calls on all mankind to follow six specific recommended ways of behaving with regard to nature. Among other things it asks that repetition of the mistakes of the past be avoided and that economic development take into account the boundaries of nature. On the previous day in Ravenna, another historic event had taken place. Vartholomaios officiated at the first Orthodox service in 12 centuries in the church of Saint Apollinaris. As Archbishop Verucchi of Ravenna, who was invited to the ceremony, said to the patriarch, «Those mosaics are smiling today.» And indeed the religious ceremony was held in a unique atmosphere of love, emotion and unity between the two churches. From June 5 to 10, the patriarch’s ship transported 250 conferees from all over the world, together with 50 representatives of the local and international media, along the eastern shore of the Adriatic to Italy. They traveled from Corfu to Albania, Kotor in Montenegro (where the patriarch received a moving welcome), Split in Croatia, Koper in Slovenia, Ravenna and Venice. The participants in the symposium and the media representatives visited places that show the other face of Europe. One such place was Porto Romano in Albania, where children play amid stagnant chemical waste, and women hang out their washing on lines suspended from trash-filled containers. Just a few days later in Oslo, Vartholomaios was given the Sophia award for the environment. The basic themes of the symposium were the history and political ecology of the Adriatic, the hazards and the potential of the Albanian coast, ecologically sustainable tourism, the environment as a lost paradise and gift of God, the symbolism of water in Biblical practice and liturgical tradition, the role of ethics and religious responsibility in the protection of the environment for future generations and, above all, the lost dimension of sacrifice, whose reattainment will allow humanity to change its attitude to the environment. Other participants included Bishop Kallistos, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Sheik Kouftaro, the Grand Mufti of Syria and numerous academics and senior officials of international organizations that deal with the environment. At each stop the boat was joined by local notables, such as the president and prime minister of Albania and the co-administrator of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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