VATICAN CITY, AUG. 27, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, commended to the “powerful intercession of the Virgin of Kazan” the “important ecumenical event” represented by the return of the venerated icon to Patriarch Alexy II, as a gift of John Paul II to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Cardinal Kasper headed the delegation that left for Moscow on Friday. The image will be taken to the Kremlin’s Church of the Dormition on Saturday, Aug. 28.
Over the last few years the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan has been kept in the papal apartment. Before the icon left the Vatican, the faithful were able to pray before it during a Mass on Thursday afternoon in the Vatican Basilica, at which Cardinal Kasper presided.
In the course of its journeying, which at the beginning of the last century took the icon to the other side of the Iron Curtain, the image of the Mother of God of Kazan has become a “point of reference for Orthodox and Catholics,” the cardinal said during the homily.
“The Virgin has preceded us on the path of our ecumenical endeavor, has anticipated our path by gathering the two divided parts of Christianity in prayer,” he added, as reported by Vatican Radio.
Inviting all the faithful to support the Vatican delegation’s visit to Moscow with prayer, Cardinal Kasper said that “we ardently hope that this venerated icon, point of reference in the past for the Orthodox Church, will also be in the future a pivot of cohesion and unity for the Orthodox and Catholic faithful who petition for full unity in their prayers.”
“I am convinced that, thanks to her powerful intercession, the Virgin of Kazan will be our support and our ally in our determination to surmount the reservations, difficulties, misunderstandings, and differences of faith that, sadly, still exist between us,” the cardinal stressed.
“Thanks to her intercession before the throne of God, she will bring together perfectly the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church in the one Church of Christ,” said the president of the dicastery, emphasizing that the return “of the icon to Patriarch Alexy II constitutes an important ecumenical event.”
But for the cardinal, the icon “is also the symbol of the new Europe and of the process of the unification of the continent, to which Russia belongs culturally and religiously.”
In fact, after the “two terrible wars” and “totalitarian and atheist” dictatorships of the 20th century, and “in face of the prevailing phenomenon of secularism, Europe is in need of a profound renewal in the faith,” he explained.
In this connection, “the Virgin represents all the values that such a renewal implies: the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of life, the safeguarding of marriage and the family, the values of law and justice as pillars of peace. Life and the unity of the community of European peoples will be able to have stability only if they are founded on these values,” he said.
In fact, the return of the icon “is a gesture that manifests the affection of the successor of Peter for the Patriarch and the synod of the Orthodox Church and the Russian people,” said, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, of the Vatican Secretariat of State when presiding on Thursday at lauds in honor of the Virgin Mary, before the image of the Mother of God of Kazan in the Vatican Basilica.
The gesture also expresses “the desire and firm intention of the Pope of Rome to advance together” with the Russian Orthodox “on the path of reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation so that the full unity of the disciples of Christ will be realized as soon as possible,” added the prelate, whose words were reported on Friday by L’Osservatore Romano.
“Mary always exercises an amazing fascination and attracts to herself pilgrims and faithful from all over the world. To her the Christian people, in the East and West, take recourse in every circumstance, especially in the most difficult.”
Thousands of pilgrims had the opportunity on Wednesday to take leave of the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan at a solemn ceremony of farewell and veneration during the Liturgy of the Word, presided over by John Paul II in the Vatican’s Paul VI auditorium.