Catholic World News News Feature

Pope plans farewell homage to icon of Kazan August 23, 2004

At his public audience on Sunday, August 22, Pope John Paul II discussed his plan to restore a precious icon to the Russian Orthodox Church, and prayed to Our Lady of Kazan for the cause of Christian unity.

In a related development, Catholics in Moscow said that they hoped for a chance to pray before the famous icon of Kazan, but revealed that the Catholic archbishop of Moscow had not been invited to attend the ceremony at which Vatican officials will present the icon to the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Catholic parishioners of Moscow's Immaculate Conception cathedral are hoping for a chance to pray before the beloved icon of Our Lady of Kazan, before the image is returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Parishioners have proposed that an all-night vigil could be arranged in the cathedral beginning on August 27, when a delegation of Vatican officials lead by Cardinal Walter Kasper arrive in Moscow, bearing the revered icon. On the morning of August 28 they will hand the icon over to Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II in a ceremony at the Kremlin, but neither Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz nor Moscow’s Catholic faithful have been invited to the solemn occasion.

[For a more detailed account of the Moscow Catholics' request see the AsiaNews web site.]

At his Angelus audience, the Pope noted that the Church was celebrating the feast of the Queenship of Mary, "a feast day closely tied to the mystery of the Assumption, which I had the joy to celebrate last Sunday at Lourdes." He mentioned the many famous Marian shrines and image that testify to Christian devotion to the Mother of God, ending with a mention of Our Lady of Kazan.

The Pope reminded his audience that the icon of Kazan, which had been lost by the Orthodox Church during the Russian revolution, "found its way into the papal apartment." He announced that at his weekly public audience on Wednesday, August 25, he would pay homage to the icon for a final time, before returning it to the Orthodox hierarchy in a gesture of ecumenical goodwill.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, will lead a Vatican delegation carrying the icon to Moscow this week. He will present the image to Patriarch Alexei II at a ceremony on August 28, as the Orthodox Church celebrates the Assumption.

Patriarch Alexei minimized the importance of the Pope's gesture when he announced, in a conversation with Russia's President Putin, that the image which the Pope was sending to Moscow is only a copy of the original icon of Kazan. Vatican experts have testified that they are quite sure it is the original image.