Dmitry Medvedev: President Napolitano,
Mayor and Prefect of the city of Bari,
Compatriots and Italian friends,
We are gathered here for an event of historic importance: the Orthodox metochion built here a little less than 100 years ago by our compatriots in Italy is returning to Russia. Everyone present here today understands the moral dimension of this act and is, I am sure, filled with the most joyous and sincere emotion.
First of all, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has put in the effort and commitment to making this important event possible. I especially want to thank President of the Republic of Italy Giorgio Napolitano, and the Italian Government. I want to say a huge thanks to the Mayor of Bari and to everyone who looked after this metochion during the difficult years of the twentieth century. All of you cared for and preserved this unique monument of Russian culture and architecture, and in so doing showed an example of special feeling towards our people.
Today’s event was also made possible by the efforts of two patriarchs: Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II, whose memory will remain forever in our hearts, and Patriarch Kirill, who only recently was enthroned as Patriarch.
The significance of this handover, this event, is equally great for Russians and Italians. It is an act that confirms the deep-reaching ties between our cultures and peoples.
In 2017, we will celebrate together the metochion’s 100th anniversary. This event will require big preparations on both sides and will demonstrate the common spiritual and humanitarian values that Russia and Italy share, values that are based on not years, but centuries of mutual interests and respect.
For more than 1,000 years now, Russians and Italians have venerated Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is especially venerated in Russia, where ever-new churches and monasteries were and still are raised in his name, and he is considered a helper in daily life.
The construction of an Orthodox Church here in Bari, close to the burial place of this great Christian saint, was therefore highly welcomed by our Orthodox compatriots.
There is no doubt that the importance of this metochion as one of the most important spiritual centres of Russian Orthodoxy on Italian soil will grow with time. Thousands of our compatriots have come here for help in the past, and thousands will continue to do so. People from every corner of our country will come.
In 2011, we will hold the Year of Italian Culture and Italian Language in Russia, and the Year of Russian Culture and Russian Language in Italy. These initiatives are part of the multifaceted cooperation that binds Russia and Italy. This cooperation is built on traditions of diverse and trusting relations between our countries. During the talks I had just now with Mr Giorgio Napolitano, we agreed to continue making every effort to build on these traditions of humanitarian cooperation between our countries.
Dear friends, I wish everyone present success and good luck in carrying out your plans. Thank you for your attention, thank you for your participation in today’s ceremony.