On 22 September 2010, a giant in the world of
ecumenism and Eastern Christianity died after living with illness. No one can
doubt the sentiment expressed by the Pope saying that Monsignor Fortino had a “generous
commitment with intelligence and passion at the service of unity.” The Pope
last saw Monsignor Fortino on June 28 with the delegation of the Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew I. A telegram was sent through his secretary of state,
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, honoring the life of the undersecretary (third in
charge) of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who focused
particularly on relations with the Orthodox Churches.
Eleuterio Francesco Fortino was born in San Benedetto Ullano, Calabria, on April 21, 1938 into an Albanian family whose lineage moved to Italy when they were forcibly moved by the Turks. The Fortino family were members of the Italo-Albanian Byzantine Church. Beginning in 1958, he was a seminarian in the Pontifical Greek College completing his studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Ordained a priest in 1962. Studies were finished in 1965 when he was called by Jan Cardinal Willebrands called him to work at the Christian Unity secretariat (founded only in 1960). Fortino took part in the last session of the Second Vatican Council as an assistant to the ecumenical observers. From that time Father Fortino has collaborated with the Holy See in the dialogue with the Orthodox Churches.
Monsignor Eleuterio Fortino was the author of several works: Liturgia Greca (St Nilo Press, 1970), La chiesa bizantina Albanese in Calabria: Tensioni e comunio (Bios, 1994) and Il dialogo ecumenio: Verso un terzo millenio (Grafitalia, 2000). Plus, many articles in various languages.
In 2008, The Silver Rose of St. Nicholas was given to Monsignor Fortino. The award was given by the Institute for Ecumenical Studies at the University of Fribourg and the Institute for Eastern Christian Studies at Regensburg. It is given “to persons who live their lives, like St. Nicholas, make visible the love of God for human beings.” Fortino was the third person to have received The Silver Rose of St Nicholas.
Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, conveyed the papal telegram during the celebration of the Trisagion on Saturday afternoon in the church of St. Athanasius of the Greeks in Rome. Father Manuel Nin, rector of the Pontifical Greek College, was the celebrant and preacher of the Divine Liturgy.
Walter Cardinal Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave his “profound gratitude for everything he did. I say it not only in my name, but in that of all the men and women collaborators, of all those who esteemed him over these long years. In Monsignor Fortino we have known profound humanity; he was a faithful friend. All of us admired how, despite his exhausting illness, he always kept his good humor and continued with the work he carried in his heart. We have lost a friend.”
Monsignor Juan Fernando Usma Gómez, a collaborator in the office of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, also spoke at the Liturgy saying the gathered congregation “was a testimony of imposing and moving affection that made us remember how Monsignor Fortino was not only a soul of ecumenism and a man of culture, but also a priest who was truly a pastor of his Italian-Albanian community.”
Patriarch Bartholomew I and Orthodox Archbishop Anastasius of Tirana and All Albania sent condolences.