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Their town has a plaque to Putin. They want Zelensky to take it down.

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“It got louder,” Mr. Fortunato said.

Previous campaigns to remove the plaque have failed. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, about 12,000 people signed a petition Online Petition A request to remove the plaque was rejected. Part of the problem is that even some local officials are unclear about who is responsible for making that decision, although the cathedral’s rector, Giovanni Distante, said the square where the plaque hangs is “directly the responsibility of the city government.”

Bari Mayor Antonio De Carlo did not respond to multiple requests for comment. defend “I do not agree with canceling a piece of history,” he wrote on the plaque, local news media reported at the time.

In an interview, Father Distant sought to steer the debate by focusing on the history of St. Nicholas’s advocacy of “promoting and restoring Christian unity,” and pointedly pointed out that it was the Russian Orthodox Church in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, that established the commemoration of the relics now in Bari in 1095. The schism between the Orthodox Churches In Ukraine and Russia, traditionally patriarchal societies led by Putin’s allies, After the 2022 Invasion.

But Father Distante said St. Nicholas’ tradition of promoting “justice, truth, love and peace” also provided a suitable backdrop for the G7 meeting.

Last month, about 1,000 Orthodox pilgrims attended the annual St. Nicholas Day ceremony at Bari Cathedral, including some visitors from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries, but mostly local residents. In past years, the celebrations have drawn more than 10,000 people, about a third of whom were from Russia, officials said.

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