CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 22, 2004 ( John Paul II explained the importance in his life of the icon of the Virgin of Kazan, which he is about to return to the Russian Orthodox Church.

"I am happy to announce that a special delegation will take this icon, which is so dear to me, to His Holiness Alexy II, patriarch of Moscow and All Russias," the Pope said before praying the Angelus today with thousands of pilgrims gathered in the courtyard of the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

The Holy Father explained that the icon, which was taken out of "Russia in the decade of the '20s of the last century, after prolonged stays in different places, arrived some years ago in the Pope's apartment, and since that moment, has watched over his daily work."

"Next Wednesday, August 25, in the general audience," he said, "we will recollect ourselves together with the faithful to pray before this icon," one of the most venerated by the Russian Orthodox.

"From now on we entrust to Mary, Mother of unity and love, our prayers for the good of the Church and of the whole human family," the Pope concluded.

The icon will be handed over to the Russian patriarch in Moscow by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, next Saturday, the day the Orthodox Church celebrates the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

The past week spent in Castel Gandolfo has helped John Paul II to rest after his pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, on Aug. 14-15. His voice today was clearer and stronger than it was in Lourdes.

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