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Russian Church says over half of pilgrims venerating St Nicholas's relics non-Muscovites

July 13, 3:30 UTC+3 MOSCOW

"Of the total number of people, women made up about 60% and men, 40%," the Reverend Alexander Volkov, the head of Moscow Patriarchate's press service said

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MOSCOW, July 13. /TASS/. More than 60% pilgrims who came to Moscow's Cathedral of the Savior to venerate the relics of St Nicholas in the period of May 22 to July 12 are non-Muscovites, the Reverend Alexander Volkov, the head of Moscow Patriarchate's press service told reporters on Wednesday.

"Of the total number of people, women made up about 60% and men, 40%," he said. "Fifteen percent of the pilgrims were adolescents, and people with physical restrictions constituted about 12% The overall number of pilgrims who came from other regions exceeded a million people and this is about 60% of all pilgrims."

Residents of the Central, Volga, and Southern Federal Districts made up the majority of pilgrims. Also about 260,000 pilgrims came from other countries.

"Most frequently, the pilgrims came from Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, and the U.S.," the Rev Volkov said.

The maximum length of the queue to the Cathedral of the Savior reached 7 kilometers and the average time of queuing up to it totaled seven hours. About 5,000 singers took part in the services as choir members.

Police did not register any serious incidents during the stay of St Nicholas’s relics in Moscow, said Konstantin Blazhenov, a deputy chief of Moscow City’s department for nationalities policy and inter-religious relations.

"During all these days we didn’t register any incidents," he said. "Some 1,850 citizens turned for assistance but this is less than a percentage point, especially if you look at how many elderly people came there.

The authorities organized meals at highly discounted prices for the pilgrims. On cold days, hot tea was handed out free of charge.

Hundreds of volunteers gave assistance to the pilgrims every day. Maxim Sokolov, a coordinator of the Orthodox Christian Volunteers movement said the overall number of those who had thrown shoulder into the effort to assist the pilgrims stood at 18,500.

Of that number, 14,000 persons helped with escorting the pilgrims and more than 4,500 acted as singers. More than 60% volunteers were younger than forty. On the whole, the age bracket of the volunteer was impressively big - from five to eighty-three years old.

From 300 to 800 volunteers took to the streets of the city and came to the Cathedral of the Savior daily. Also, there were about volunteer singers every day.

Women made up 78% of the volunteers. Most of them are residents of Moscow but residents of 63 regions of Russia and citizens of foreign countries - Abkhazia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, and even Australia - took part in the public assistance campaign, too.

An agreement on the ‘translation’ of St Nicholas’s relics from Italy to Russia was reached upon the outcome of the historic personal meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Kirill I, and Pope Francis I in Havana on February 12.

A fragment of the saint’s relics was specially retrieved from a sealed tomb located in the lower church of the basilica in Bari, Italy. The relics were placed there 930 years ago and covered by a marble slab weighing more than 30 tonnes. No one ever removed the slab during all this time.

The fragment - a rib - is kept in a reliquary of precious metals, which the Moscow Patriarchate commissioned specially for the occasion.

A specially charted jet delivered the relics to Moscow on May 21. Upon agreement with the Roman Catholic Church and the city authorities of Bari, the Russian Church will now take the relics to the Holy Trinity Cathedral of the St Alexander of the Neva’s Laura (monastery) in St Petersburg.

The ceremony of bidding farewell to the shrine in Moscow will begin at around 05:00 hours on July 13. After that a motorcade will head for Vnukovo airport to the southwest of Moscow where the reliquary will be placed into a jet that will deliver it to St Petersburg.

The relics will stay in St Petersburg through to July 28. Admittance hours at the Holy Trinity are from 07:00 hours to 22:00 hours in the period of July 14-27.

On July 28, the relics will return to Italy after a festive farewell ceremony.

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