Ksenia and Irina, both from Ukraine, arrived in Bari, Italy, from Naples, specifically to pray for their loved ones in Ukraine before the relics of St. Nicholas. The doors of the basilica, however, were closed because of a theft committed the previous night. Someone broke into the shrine containing the statue of the Bishop of Myra, a symbol of the union between West and East, and stole several items, including a jewel-studded silver cross and a gold ring. When the two women learned the news, they were silent and sad, but not deterred.
Irina cried and knelt down on the stairs; the images of that moment are powerful. “I wanted to pray for my daughters and grandchildren who live in Mariupol,” she says. “Since the bombing, we’ve had no news of them,” she told Italian daily La Repubblica. Irina has been living in Naples for a while, reports TRMTV, although her children and grandchildren remained in Ukraine.
The war destroyed Ksenia’s house, and she sought refuge in Italy, far from her loved ones. Ksenia has not heard from her other family members since March 9. She arrived in Italy on March 20, fleeing the war; her husband remained in Mariupol to fight. One of her daughters seems to have disappeared into thin air; another is said to be hiding in a basement in the martyred city.
The Feast of the 40 Saints
Ksenia and her friend Irina chose to pray to the saint from Myra on this particular day, March 22, when the feast of the 40 Saints is celebrated in Ukraine. They wanted to pray in the crypt of St. Nicholas, in the presence of his relics, for the protection of their loved ones, but the closure of the church due to the recent crime forced them to stay out in the square. Their prayers were choked with tears.
The other statue of St. Nicholas
In the same square, in front of the entrance to the Basilica, there’s another statue of St. Nicholas, donated years ago by Russian President Putin to the city of Bari. “We don’t even want to go near that statue,” the women said, “Because Putin, who is killing our families and destroying our cities, gave it as a gift,” they told ANSA.