A statement published on Monday by the communications service of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, says: “The attempts to link the returning of this icon with the question of a visit of the Pope of Rome to Russia are astonishing, the more so that the Vatican has not negotiated such a visit with the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls confirmed on May 4 in Madrid, that the Vatican was studying the possibility of a papal stopover in Kazan, in the Russian Federation, during John Paul II’s trip to Mongolia at the end of August.
On that occasion, the Pope would like to return to Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow the icon given to him for this purpose by a Catholic institution.
The patriarchate states that “on the basis of the analysis undertaken on April 1, 2003, in Rome by a group of authoritative scientists delegated by the Russian Federation Ministry of Culture and the Vatican, it has become known that the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan kept in the apartments of the Pope of Rome is an 18th century copy made by a provincial icon-painter on the pattern characteristic of the late 17th-early 18th century.”
“In its size and character, this icon cannot be identified with either the historical miracle-working icon that appeared in 1579 in Kazan or other known and venerated icons.”
“The statement that this icon is ‘authentic’ is justified only in the sense that it is not a modern forgery and fully corresponds to the time to which it has been dated by specialists.”
The patriarchate repeats that the “possibility for a meeting between His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and the Pope of Rome” depends entirely on surmounting “the problems standing between the two Churches, such as the Catholic proselytism among people who belong to Orthodoxy by baptism and cultural tradition and the strained circumstances in which the faithful of the canonical Orthodox Church live in western Ukraine.”
“The recent establishment of new Catholic dioceses in Kazakhstan shows that the Vatican’s policy is aimed at aggravating the existing problems,” the statement concludes.
In an interview on May 18, with the Italian newspaper “Avvenire,” Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, explained that the two new dioceses in the former Soviet Republic were created to respond to the rebirth of the Catholic communities that, like the Orthodox, were severely persecuted during decades of communism.
At the same time, the Italian cardinal revealed that before publishing this decision, out of a sense of delicacy, the Patriarchate of Moscow was informed.