By Vatican News staff writer
It was 40 years ago, today, that Saint Pope John Paul II declared Saints Cyril and Methodius as co-patrons of Europe. With his Apostolic Letter Egregiae virtutis, dated 31 December 1980, Pope John Paul marked the centenary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical that introduced their liturgical feast of 14 February into the calendar of the Catholic Church.
The 9th-century missionary brothers from Thessaloniki (in present-day Greece), evangelized the Slavic peoples and took the step of adapting the Greek alphabet into what came to be known as the “Cyrillic” alphabet. Saints Cyril and Methodius are also great ecumenical figures, venerated by several Christian Churches. Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Vatican Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, released a video message to mark 40 years of the declaration of the "Apostles to the Slavs" as co-patrons of Europe.
The Swiss cardinal underscored the importance of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the culture of the Slavic people. “By putting the spoken language into written form and recording it in alphabetic signs,” he noted, “they passed it on to those from whom they had earlier received it in safekeeping.” “Thus the Gospel came to be expressed in the written Slavic language.”
The cardinal noted that the two brothers from Thessaloniki are also “witnesses of undivided unity at its wellspring, and of the possibility of holding diversity together”. Cardinal Koch wished that their lives be “an inspiration for the paths of unity and may their intercession sustain its fulfilment”.