May 23, 2015

Catholic Deacon Impressed With the Faith of the Greeks

May 21, 2015

Gianfranco Fiorin, a permanent deacon of the Roman Catholic Church, says he is impressed by the "experience of faith" that he is experiencing in Greece.

Gianfranco Fiorin has been accompanying the sacred relics of Saint Barbara from the moment they departed from Venice, where he has undertaken the restoration of the Church of San Martino in Burano island.

"My experience here has been amazing. Here I saw faith, because people have been standing here for hours in line under the sun and thirsty in order to arrive and touch the relic for one second and kiss it, and touch their foreheads to it. I saw some people arrive here on their knees, parents bring their young children, I saw many young people, many older people, many disabled, I saw a very impressive people," he told ANA-MPA with awe regarding his experience at the Church of Saint Barbara in Athens.

He did not fail to emphasize the transfer of the sacred relic to the anti-cancer hospital "Agios Savvas".

"It was amazing to see the patients come and bow before Saint Barbara. It is hope. The Christian hope that never dies. Not so much for a recovery, but rather that Christ be a fellow traveler as they walk through life," he confessed.

He also explained what it is like in the corresponding shrine in Venice and pointed out the contrast with the experience he's been having in Greece: "In Venice where there is the Basilica of San Marco and the Belfry, hundreds of people wait in line all day to enter the Basilica and climb up the Belfry. However, they do this for cultural and touristic purposes, or to overlook Venice from a high point or observe the mosaics of the church."

Furthermore, he also tried to contrast his experience in Greece with similar events of the Roman Catholic Church in Venice with reference to two major festivals: Our Lady of Health and that of Saint Mark, who is the patron saint of Venice.

As the Roman Catholic deacon explained, the feast of Our Lady of Health dates back to the 6th century, when after a plague epidemic the Doge made a vow to build a Basilica in honor of Our Lady of Health, as long as Venice was rescued from the plague. He promised he would make a pilgrimage every year on November 21st, which takes 2-3 days, and all the Venetians, along with people from the surrounding area, believers and non, come to Venice.

Also, on April 25th, which is the feast of Saint Mark, the patron of Venice, a magnificent tradition takes place where Venetians and non come to honor Saint Mark. "What I have seen here (in Greece), however, is much more," he said.

Asked what was the occasion for bringing the sacred relic to an Orthodox country after 1,000 years, the permanent deacon of the Roman Catholic Church made known, that the request to transfer the relic of Saint Barbara became immediately acceptable "in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, knowing what Saint Barbara represents to Athens and Greece."

He also confided that he accepted with great joy to accompany the sacred relic to Athens, despite the various personal constraints he had.

"I had great difficulties because now I am president of a religious institution that deals with people with serious illnesses, such as AIDS. We have a staff of 400 people, and we had a board meeting on the 21st of May, which is my birthday, so there were many obstacles. I spoke to my wife, whose name is Barbara, and she urged me to come. Saint Barbara took care of all the difficulties and allowed me to leave and stay away for 15 days."

He made particular reference of the importance of Saint Barbara to Venetians, where her sacred relic is very significant.

"She is adored by all Venetians and is the patroness of seafarers and ships with ammunition, as well as the patron saint of firefighters, soldiers who handle explosives, and all that may suffer sudden death," he said.

Lastly, Gianfranco made a historical report, recalling how "the sacred relic arrived in Venice around 1000 A.D. as a dowry gift of the bride of Emperor Constantine VIII. Initially it was placed in the Basilica of San Marco, though since 1800 it has been kept in the Church of San Martino in Burano island."

He explained how as a permanent deacon of the Roman Catholic Church, he can be married, but not allowed to be a priest, which is reserved only for celibates. Also, he is a volunteer and does not get paid for his service, since he is a retired bank clerk.

He volunteers in the administrative center of the Roman Catholic Patriarchate in Venice in various positions of responsibility, and his main task is the head of the pastorship of the local Church of Venice in hospital institutions.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.