Veneration, Handover Set For Prized Russian Icon
Rome, Aug. 24 (


The icon of Our Lady of Kazan will be exposed for public veneration in St. Peter's basilica on August 26, before it is taken to Moscow to be given to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II on August 28.


On Wednesday, August 25, Pope John Paul II will perform a public ceremony in the Paul VI auditorium to venerate the famous icon. At this liturgical ceremony-- which will take the place of his regular weekly audience-- the Pope will kiss the icon, following the Orthodox tradition, while Russian choirs will chant music written for the annual feast at which the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the apparition of the icon in the city of Kazan. (That feast is celebrated in Russia on July 8.) The Holy Father will also deliver a homily on the icon.


After the public veneration of the icon, the image will be given by the Pope to Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, who will head the Vatican delegation traveling to Moscow to restore the icon to Orthodox ownership. That delegation will also include, among others, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC; Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls; and Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the St. Egidio community. Upon reaching Russia they will be joined by Moscow's Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz and by Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the apostolic nuncio there.

The icon will be handed over the Patriarch Alexei on August 28, the feast of the Dormition on the Orthodox calendar. Russia's President Vladimir Putin will be present at the ceremony.

The importance of this ceremony has been clouded by the public statements in which the Russian patriarch charged that the icon in question is not the original image of Our Lady of Kazan, which is believed to have miraculous properties. But a team of Vatican experts and Russian scholars, after studying the image in 2003, concluded that this icon has been the object of long and devout veneration.

At his public audience on August 22, Pope John Paul remarked that he felt a particularly strong attachment to the icon, which has been kept in the papal apartment since 1991. The Pontiff announced on July 10 that he would restore the image to the Russian Orthodox Church, which has a long tradition of devotion to Our Lady of Kazan.

Vatican sources indicate that the Pope made his decision to return the icon shortly after Cardinal Kasper returned from a visit to Moscow in February of this year. But he did not announce that decision until after a visit to Rome by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I-- a visit that marked a step forward in relations between the Holy See and the Orthodox world. The Pope's gesture is clearly intended to help improve relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, which has been harshly critical of the Vatican for several years.

Russian prelate thanks Pope for returning icon Moscow, Aug. 31 ( - Patriarch Alexei II has issued a formal statement thanking Pope John Paul II (bio - news) for returning the icon of Our Lady of Kazan to the Russian Orthodox Church.


The Patriarch's statement, released by the Vatican press office on August 31, says that the restoration of the prized icon is an act of "justice" as well as a clear gesture of good will on the part of the Vatican.


Pope returns icon to Russia

Hopes for closer relations with Orthodox church

Saturday, August 28, 2004 Posted: 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- A Vatican delegation has returned a centuries-old Russian Orthodox icon to Russia's Orthodox patriarch in a special ceremony.


The Icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which has spent the last decade in Pope John Paul II's private apartment, was presented to Russian Patriarch Alexy II. The handover symbolizes closer relations between two major strands of Christianity -- Catholicism and Orthodoxy. But early reactions from the Orthodox suggested that the return of the icon had not resolved outstanding disputes between Roman Catholics and the Russian Orthodox Church.


In recent months, relations between the two Christian bodies have been clouded by Orthodox complaints that Catholics are trying to attract converts in Russia and are harassing the Orthodox in western Ukraine where Catholics are a majority. Catholics deny both claims.


The 12-by-10 inch icon handed over Saturday was once believed to be the original 1579 image of the Madonna of Kazan, believed by Russian Orthodox to have miracle-working powers. Later analysis, however, showed it to be a late 17th-early 18th century copy.


In Orthodox tradition, copies of famous icons often go on to be revered themselves. The pope said Wednesday that the icon had "watched over his daily service to the church" since it was given to him by an American Catholic group in 1993. He had hoped to bring the icon to Russia himself. Orthodox officials, however, have insisted their disputes must first be resolved.


No pope meeting yet

Again Saturday, Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, told reporters that "the conditions do not yet exist" for a meeting with the pope.


Instead the icon was returned by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a senior Vatican official, during a service at a Moscow cathedral. American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., was also part of the Vatican delegation.


John Paul has sought better relations with the 200-million member Russian Orthodox Church throughout his 25-year pontificate, in part because he believes the Orthodox are natural allies in struggles to resist both Western secularism and the challenge of Islam.


In receiving the icon, the 75-year-old Alexy II thanked the pope but also issued a blunt call for more substantive moves. "I hope this demonstrates a desire on the part of the Vatican to seriously return to an attitude of respect with regard to our church," he said.


Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls predicted that the Russian people would respond positively even if Orthodox officials do not. "This was a gesture of the pope that arrived at the heart of the people," he said. "The consciousness of difficulties is strong, but this went around and over it." John L. Allen Jr., correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, contributed to this report