VATICAN CITY, AUG. 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II handed over the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan to a Vatican delegation that will take it to the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow this Saturday.
A Liturgy of the Word, presided over by the Pope in Paul VI Hall, marked a solemn farewell and act of veneration of the icon, which had been kept in the Papal Apartment. Today’s event drew 7,000 people.
The icon, considered the most venerated by Russian Orthodox faithful, was taken out of their country in the 1920s.
After long stays in various places, the image was recovered by a Catholic group. The icon was kept in the Chapel of Fatima, in Portugal, until about 10 years ago, when a group gave it to John Paul II.
While the choir of the Pontifical Russian College in Rome sang the Marian litany, the icon, covered in a golden mantle, was carried in procession by a deacon through the central aisle of Paul VI Hall. As it passed by, the faithful were able to touch the venerated image of the Virgin.
John Paul II wore a red cape and looked well. In a clear voice, he asked Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to return the icon “to our brother Patriarch Alexy II, and through him to the holy Russian Orthodox Church and all the Russian people.”
The Pope composed a prayer to the Mother of God of Kazan, read in Russian, in which he implored the Virgin to “return in the midst of brothers and sisters of holy Russia as a messenger of communion and peace.”
During the homily, delivered before taking leave of the icon, the Bishop of Rome said that “from the beginning, I have desired that this holy icon return to the soil of Russia.”
For over 10 years, “it has been by my side and accompanied me with a maternal gaze in my daily service to the Church,” he added.
“How many times, since that day, have I invoked the Mother of God of Kazan, asking her to protect and guide the Russian people who are devoted to her, and to hasten the time in which all the disciples of her Son, recognizing themselves brothers, will be able to restore in full the lost unity,” the Pope concluded.