The Vatican has issued a statement saying that some media reports that have presented Pope John Paul II’s handing over of the relics of Saints John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen to the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople on Saturday as an act of “reparation,” or that they had been stolen by Crusaders in the 12th century and brought to Rome, are mistaken.
On Satuday November 27, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See Press Office, stated that “some media have reported that Pope John Paul II's gesture, of great ecclesiastic importance and expression of the 'comunicato in sacris' existing between Eastern and Western Christians, is a 'reparation' and a way for the Pope to ask for forgiveness on behalf of the Catholic Church for taking the relics from the ecumenical Patriarch during the crusades of the 8th century.”
“Such an interpretation,” he added, “is historically inaccurate since the mortal remains of St. Gregory Nazianzen reached Rome in the 8th century during the iconoclastic persecution in order to be saved.”
“Without denying that the tragic events of the 8th century,” he continued, “the return - not restitution - to Constantinople of the relics of the two saints, venerated equally in the West and the East, important examples of the search for unity and peace of the Church of Christ, intends in the third millennium, going beyond the controversies and difficulties of the past, to propose once again such an edifying example and to give rise to a choral prayer of Catholics and Orthodox for their full communion."
The relics of St. Gregory Nazianzen, who died in 390, were brought to Rome from Constantinople by Byzantine nuns in the 8th century in order to save them from destruction by the iconclast emperors Leo III the Isaurian, and Constantine who denied the cult sacred images. Whoever venerated these images and relics were persecuted.
The relics of St. John Chrysostom, who died in exile in 407 were brought to Rome in 1258 and place in the altar of the Chapel of the Choir in St. Peter's after its restoration in 1990.