Russian Republic of Tatarstan Invites Pope for a Visit

Requests Return of Kazan Icon

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MOSCOW, JAN. 7, 2002 ( Muslims of the autonomous Russian Republic of Tatarstan have invited John Paul II to visit their land.

The trip, however, would not occur until 2005, according to the Russian Interfax agency. The visit would mark the the millennium of the Tatar capital, Kazan.

Meanwhile, President Mintimer Chaimiev on Sunday has requested that the Holy Father return the image of Our Lady of Kazan, one of the most cherished icons of the Russian Orthodox.

The icon of the Virgin, discovered in Kazan in 1597, is venerated by Russian Orthodox for its powerful miracles. It was stolen from the Cathedral of Kazan in 1904.

The magazine Inside the Vatican has previously reported that the icon was removed from the art black market when it was purchased by American John Haffert, founder of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima.

Haffert built a chapel in Fatima to house the icon. He later took it to Rome and gave it to the Pope, so that John Paul II could return it to the Orthodox. It is now in the Holy Father´s private apartments.

Kamil Ishkakov, mayor of Kazan, invited the Pope in November 2000 to visit the city for a ceremonial return of the icon. The mayor also gave the Pope a letter of invitation signed by Gusman Isjakov, head of the Muslims´ spiritual council.

Returning the icon is not a simple matter, however, because the icon does not belong to the Republic of Tatarstan, but to the Russian Orthodox Church. Hence, the Pope has responded to the authorities of the Russian Republic saying that the icon should be returned to the Cathedral of Kazan by Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This would necessitate the establishment of contacts with the patriarchate, which until recently has been rejected by the Russian Orthodox leader.

Tatarstan, in the Volga region, has 3.8 million inhabitants, 51% of whom are Muslims, and 43% Orthodox.

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