MOSCOW, AUG. 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The return of the Icon of the Mother of Kazan to Russia is a moment of “historical dimension” that marks a “new beginning,” said Vatican Spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
The Holy Father entrusted the image to a Vatican delegation on Wednesday with the mission to return it to the Russian people. He expressed then the hope that the icon would transmit to Patriarch Alexy II the Pope’s affection for him, for the Russian Orthodox Church and for the spirituality it represents, as well as his firm intention to advance on the path of reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, delivered the icon on Saturday. Accompanied also by Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington D.C., the papal delegation arrived on Friday to the Moscow Sheremetevo airport.
Representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the Russian government received the delegation with a “truly very cordial welcome,” said Navarro-Valls to the Italian newspaper Avvenire.
The return of the Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan was accompanied by hymns and prayers in the Kremlin’s Cathedral of the Dormition, where Alexy II presided at a liturgy. He emphasized that Russia is the Virgin’s “home,” and that the Kremlin, with its cathedral, is Russia’s “heart”, Vatican Radio reported.
At the end of the three-hour solemn celebration, Cardinal Kasper handed a letter and the icon in the Pontiff’s name to Alexy II.
In giving the icon to the Patriarch, the Cardinal stated that John Paul II “has commissioned this delegation to return to Your Holiness in his name and, through your most reverend person, to the Russian Orthodox Church, this venerated and ancient Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, ardently venerated by entire generations of faithful of the Russian people.”
“Holiness, I place in your hands again” the icon, Cardinal Kasper said, as reported by L’Osservatore Romano.
“May the Most Holy Mother of God be the mother of your people and refuge in all your dangers and needs; may she be the mother of Europe and of the whole of humanity; may she be the mother of peace in the world; the mother of the Church and of the full unity between the East and West; may she be our common mother, our advocate, helper and aid in our pilgrimage towards a future which we hope will be reconciled and peaceful,” he continued.
Cardinal Kasper recalled that the Virgin of Kazan is also venerated by Catholics, and that she gathers in prayer, despite division, the two parts of Christianity.
Patriarch Alexy II thanked the Pope for the return of the Icon. “Many images have returned that disappeared during Communism. There is a period when stones are thrown, and another when they are gathered. This is the copy of the Icon of Kazan which has had a long and difficult journey,” he said.
The Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, which in the 1920s was taken out of Russia, reappeared in the 1960s. At an international art auction in the United States, the Blue Army, a Catholic organization devoted to the Virgin of Fatima, purchased the icon. The Blue Army in turn gave it to John Paul II in 1993.
Since then, the Holy Father had kept the venerated image in his private study in the Apostolic Palace.
Reflecting on the historical consequence of the return of the Icon to Russia, Navarro-Valls, speaking on Vatican Radio, said that “perhaps in centuries to come there will be talk of this day, Saturday, Aug. 29, as the day when the Pope, by his own decision, made it possible for the Virgin of Kazan to return to her Eastern land.”
“With this day there is a revival of the awareness that a new reasonable hope is opening to overcome together the difficulties, also historical, which have arisen in ten centuries. So there is a new beginning: there is no doubt about this,” he stressed.