Church in the lurch: Patriarch’s death delays Italian handover

The transfer of a Russian Orthodox Mission in Bari to the Russian church has been postponed due to the death of Patriarch Aleksy II. St Nicholas church had been claimed by Italy for the last seven decades.

A day of mourning has been declared in Bari following the death of Aleksy II. Mayor Michele Emiliano says the news shocked everyone in the city.

The ceremony of the Mission’s transfer was to be held on Saturday in the presence of the Russian and Italian presidents. But Dmitry Medvedev cancelled his trip to Italy because of the Patriarch’s death.  

The Vatican's decision to hand back the building to the Russian Orthodox Church was an important step in bettering relations between the churches.

Relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches have had a chequered history. Aleksy II accused the Vatican of seeking converts in the Orthodox domain.

But over the past few years the two churches have solved many of their disagreements.