ROME, MAY 16, 2003 ( Round table entitled "The Way Towards Kazan: The Pope's Desired Trip to Russia" discusses how the return of the icon of the Virgin of Kazan might bring the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Moscow closer.

Experts on iconography, Mary, and Catholic-Orthodox relations attended the round table discussions, opened by Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, with an explanation of the history of the famous icon.

Moynihan revealed that "one of the copies of this image, venerated in Russia, has been in the papal apartments for a decade;" it is the image that the Pope might possibly return to Russia.

"A group connected to Fatima, 'the Blue Army,' bought it from an English nobleman and gave it to the Pontiff, hoping that one day he would be able to give it to the Russian Orthodox Church, its place of origin," Moynihan explained.

On May 4, during John Paul II's recent trip to Spain, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls confirmed the Pope's desire to give this image to Alexei II, patriarch of Moscow, as originally the icon belonged to the Orthodox Church.

Press sources said that the Vatican proposed that the image be handed over in Kazan, a possible stopover, during the Pope's planned trip to Mongolia this coming August.

The editor of "Inside the Vatican," which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, wondered if "an icon might be the source of new hope," referring, specifically, to the hope of a meeting between the Pope and the patriarch of Moscow.

Moynihan, who had the opportunity two years ago to admire the icon in the papal rooms, said that "as we know, an icon is not a painting but a window: we don't know what this one will open onto."

Adriano Roccuci, member of St. Egidio Community and their official spokesman before the Patriarchate of Moscow, focused on the difficulties of the dialogue between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, especially at the official level, and appealed for the "uprooting of a culture of prejudice and the empowering of a culture of personal encounter, specifically between Catholic faithful and Russian Orthodox."

In January, Roccuci, together with Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, gave a reliquary of St. Valentine to the Russian Church, which was grateful for the gift. Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow was present when the reliquary was offered, attesting to his approval of the St. Egidio Community.

In fact, the presence of members of the Russian Orthodox Church has been a constant in all international meetings to pray for peace, called by the St. Egidio Community.

Professor John Lindsay Opie and journalist Eugene Vaghin, both Russians, discussed the iconographic aspects of the Virgin of Kazan. Lindsay Opie reviewed the history of the different versions of the icon's authenticity, while Vaghin said that the icon of Kazan was a point of reference in his life, both during his childhood, when his grandmother had the image in her home, as well as during his imprisonment in a gulag.

The icon that protects Russia still encloses many mysteries about its origin, dating, and other technical aspects.

"However, the significance of this icon is not so much its artistic value as its symbolic significance." The Pope's returning it to Russia, during a stopover on his way to Mongolia, might be an ecumenical gesture of unsuspected repercussions.

A copy of the image of Kazan, property of professor Lindsay Opie, was on display during the round table, organized by the magazine "Inside the Vatican."