Icon to Be Venerated Before Leaving Vatican

Celebrations Planned for Image of Virgin of Kazan

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Holy See posted the times when the faithful may venerate the icon of the Virgin of Kazan, before John Paul II returns it to the Russian people this week.

In his Angelus address Sunday, the Pope announced the “happy” returning of this icon so loved by him.

The Holy Father also said that at the general audience this week, “we will recollect ourselves together with the faithful, to pray before this icon,” one of the most venerated images by the Russian Orthodox.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Pope will preside at the Celebration of the Word for the veneration and return of the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan.

John Paul II will give the image to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who will head the Holy See’s delegation that will return the icon to Moscow.

By decision of the Pope, the icon will be given to Patriarch Alexy II and, through him, to the Russian Orthodox Church and all the Russian people, according to the Holy See’s Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.

The celebrations also include the veneration of the icon by the faithful in St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday. At 9 a.m., Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute of the Secretariat of State, will preside at lauds, while at 5 p.m. Cardinal Kasper will preside at a Mass.

Cardinal Kasper will return the icon to the Russian patriarch on Saturday, the day that the Orthodox Church celebrates the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

The Holy Father “hopes that this Roman pilgrimage of the Virgin of Kazan might contribute to the desired unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches,” Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls explained on July 11.

Russian experts quoted by the Italian newspaper Avvenire said that the image that is returning to Moscow is likely the most significant copy among those in existence, after the destruction by thieves of the original in 1904.

The same experts believe it is the copy Czar Peter the Great commissioned in the 18th century for the cathedral in St. Petersburg. The icon was taken out of Russia in 1917.

It reappeared in the United States in the 1970s, where it was sold at international auctions. Eventually it was purchased by the Blue Army, a Catholic organization of devotion to the Virgin of Fatima, which gave the icon to the Pope in 1993.

Since then, John Paul II has kept the icon in the chapel of his apartment, waiting for the chance to meet with Patriarch Alexy II to return it to him because, as head of the Russian Orthodox Church, he considers him the legitimate owner.

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