Icon, Once Kept by John Paul II, Returns to Kazan

Image of the Mother of God Taken to Its Original Diocese

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KAZAN, Russia, JULY 21, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The icon of the Mother of God which Pope John Paul II sent to Moscow’s Patriarch Alexy II less than a year ago, was turned over to the Orthodox diocese of Kazan.

Alexy II turned over the icon today, the feast of the icon’s apparition in the 16th century. John Paul II had kept the icon, personally, in his apartment at the Vatican.

Tradition said that the small icon appeared miraculously in the city of Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Moscow. The icon became famous for its miracles.

Alexy II took the icon to the banks of the Volga River, in a ceremony followed by a procession, in which the image was returned to the Diocese of Kazan after a 101-year absence.

The Virgin of Kazan is the most famous and most venerated image among Russian Orthodox, representing reconciliation among the various religious confessions.

During his homily Patriarch Alexy II said that Muslim-Christian dialogue is one of the most important initiatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, reported Vatican Radio.

Muslim attendees

The Orthodox patriarch celebrated the solemn ceremony for the feast of the Icon of the Mother of God in the restored Cathedral of the Annunciation in Kazan.

It was the first religious ceremony in this church for more than eight decades, as during the Soviet period the cathedral served as the headquarters of a university, noted AsiaNews.

A Catholic parish priest from Kazan attended the ceremony, as did President Mintimer Shaimiyev of Tatarstan, and representatives of the Muslim community. Almost half of this Russian republic is Muslim.

Thousands of people followed the ceremony on giant television screens installed in the streets.

After the ceremony in the cathedral, the icon was taken in procession to the monastery of the Mother of God where the image was found in the 16th century. The monastery was turned into a tobacco factory during the Soviet period.

Until the restoration of the monastery is complete, the icon will be kept in the Zilantov convent for women, noted the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

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