At the fraternal invitation of His Grace Bishop Kyrillos of Milan, the Papal Deputy for All Europe, Abba Seraphim was invited to con-celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Saint Mark at his shrine in the Basilica San Marco in Venice. This is an annual tradition in the Diocese of Milan, when Bishop Kyrillos is joined by the priests of his diocese and their families for this early morning celebration before the Basilica opens its doors to the public. The Basilica was originally erected in 828-832 as the Chapel of the Doge of Venice to house Saint Mark’s body, which was brought to Venice by two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello. They claimed to have removed it from its shrine in Alexandria in order to protect it from feared destruction during the Fatimid Caliphate. This church was destroyed in 976 during a rebellion and although a second church was built in 1063 the relics were believed to have been lost in the fire. It was not until 1094, after Saint Mark’s relics were miraculously rediscovered, that the Basilica was formally consecrated. Today the relics rest in a shrine in the High Altar, which extends into the crypt chapel immediately below, where the Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil was celebrated on his feast. Following the service all the clergy and their families gathered together for lunch in a nearby restaurant.
Following Holy Pascha, at the invitation of His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Bishop of Milan and Papal Deputy for All Europe, Abba Seraphim and the priestly members of the Synod of the British Orthodox Church, travelled to Northern Italy for a retreat in the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Milan.
Arriving in Milan on 22 April, Abba Seraphim and Fathers Simon Smyth, David Seeds and Peter Farrington, were received at Linate airport by Bishop Kyrillos and clergy, who accompanied them to St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Monastery at Lacchiarella. The next morning, being the traditional British date for the celebration of St. George’s Day, Abba Seraphim and his clergy celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. James in the presence of Bishop Kyrillos, some of his priests and the monks of the monastery. Later, accompanied by Father Raffaele Gebrail, they were entertained to lunch in Milan with Engineer Salama Salama before being accompanied by Father Antonios Ava Shenouti on the train to Venice, where they dined with Bishop Kyrillos.
The next day, accompanied by Father Antonios, they visited the Basilica of St. Marco and prayed at the tomb of the saint at the high altar. They then visited the Church of St. Zaccaria to pray at the shrines of St. John the Forerunner’s father, the priest Zechariah, as well as those of St. Athanasius the Apostolic. Venice is rich in relics of the saints, those of St. Mark having been stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants in 828, although a portion of the relics were returned to Pope Kyrillos VI by Pope Paul VI of Rome. Similarly in 1973 Pope Paul sent a portion of the relics of St. Athanasius to the late Pope Shenouda III in a fraternal gesture. The party ended their tour on foot at the Cathedral of St. Pietro in Castello, where they viewed the ancient throne of St. Peter, which had originally stood in Antioch. In the late afternoon they visited the site of the new Cathedral in Campalto, just outside the ancient city of Venice, where they joined Bishop Kyrillos and prayed for the successful completion of the work.
Returning to Milan on 25 April they lunched with Salama Salama’s son, Tariq, and his wife Christina, who then accompanied them (with Father Raffaele) to some of the significant sites in the city. As it was Independence Day in Italy, the streets were very busy with holiday makers and marchers. They prayed at the shrine of St. Ambrose, before visiting St. Maria dei Miracoli, the Duomo and the Basilica of St. Babila, named after St. Babylas, Patriarch of Antioch, who was martyred in the Decian persecution of 254.
The following morning Abba Seraphim and his priests assisted Bishop Kyrillos perform the marriage of Shady and Guiliana, followed by St. Basil’s Liturgy. This was a fitting climax to a blessed retreat during which the bishops and clergy of the two dioceses shared many insights of their respective ministries and a profound sense of fraternal love which binds them together.
On 27 January Abba Seraphim arrived in Milan on a fraternal visit to His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, who – accompanied by some diocesan clergy – welcomed him at Malpensa airport. This was Abba Seraphim’s first visit to Milan since July 1996, when he had assisted at Bishop Kyrillos’ enthronement. The party drove to the Church of Santa Maria e Sant’ Antonio at Cinisello, where Abba Seraphim gave thanks for the journey. Here they were joined by engineer Salama Salama and his wife, who had acted as Abba Seraphim’s guide during his earlier visit.
Bishop Kyrillos conducted Abba Seraphim around many of his churches so that he could see the progress in the ministry over the past eighteen years. These included the Church of Sant’ Abramo at Vigevano, formerly a plant nursery, where the original prefabricated structures had been imaginatively adapted as a church, community hall and accommodation. The spacious Church of San Mina at Rho, had previously been a garment factory, whilst a garage in Milan now served as the spacious Church of San Giorgio with multiple chapels on two levels. An instruction class was in progress when the bishops arrived and Abba Seraphim spoke briefly to the youth who were gathered. The extensive Monastery of San Shenouda at Lachiarella (near Meltoni) had formerly been a livestock farm but was now a spiritual oasis boasting many facilities for pilgrims, with eight resident monks.
The next morning engineer Salama and Fr. Raffaele Gebrail accompanied Abba Seraphim to the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, where he was received by Mons. Arciprete Biagio Pizzi, who conducted him round the shrine housing the bodies of St. Ambrose and the martyrs Gervasius and Protassius. Following this, they were received at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana by Mons. Dr. Franco Buzzi, the Prefect of the Library; Mons. Pier Francesco Fumagalli, the Vice Prefect & Director of Far Eastern Studies at the Accademia Ambrosiana; as well as Professor Giorgo Ricchebuono, President of the Cardinal Federico Borromeo Foundation. They were joined in their tour of the library and the Pinacoteca by the Rector of the Universidad de Playa Ancha in Valparaiso, Patricio Sanhueza Vivanco, and the Pro-Rector of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Professor Maria Luisa De Natale. They were also privileged to be conducted into the vaults, where they saw the strong room used to house the Library’s extensive collection of drawings buy Leonardo de Vinci, but also to have a private view of the excavated Forum of Roman Milan, preserved beneath the Library, which was to be opened to the public the next day.
In the afternoon, accompanied by Father Antonio Ava Shenuti, Abba Seraphim travelled by train to Venice, where they were met by Bishop Kyrillos, who guided them round the extensive sight of the Coptic Cathedral of St. Marco at Campalto, on the north side of the Lagoon, facing Venice. The impressive towers, walls and roof structures are all in place and building will resume this spring. The bishops dined in Venice where Abba Seraphim stayed overnight. The next morning he travelled down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square but as the acqua alta (exceptional high tide) had covered the whole of the square, the Basilica was shut. After praying at the doors of the basilica, Abba Seraphim retraced his steps to Milan.