At a special Liturgy of the Word this morning, Pope John Paul he is pleased and grateful to see the revered Russian icon of the Mother of God of Kazan return to Russian soil. A 10-member Vatican delegation will return the venerated image of Mary to its native Russia this week on the pontiff’s behalf.
According to historical accounts, the Marian icon had been taken from Moscow after World War II. It made its way through several European countries before settling for some time by the Sanctuary of Fatima in Portugal. The Pope was given the icon more than 10 years ago. However, in a gesture of reconciliation and unity, the Pope has decided to return the icon, which had been kept in the pontifical apartments, to the Russian Church and the entire Russian people.
The Pope had wanted to deliver the icon personally but the Russian Patriarch Alexei II said such a visit was unnecessary, claiming that the icon in the Pope’s possession is merely a copy. The Vatican has instead decided to send the icon with a delegation. Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, will lead the delegation and is expected to give the icon to the Russian patriarch Aug. 28.
The liturgical celebration in the Paul VI Room included prayer and veneration of the icon. Following a song performed by a Russian choir, a Russian prayer to the Mother of God of Kazan, which the Pope composed, was read.
“We find ourselves, gathered in prayer around the venerated Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, which will soon embark on a return journey to Russia, from which it was taken many years ago,” the Pope said in his homily.
“More than 10 years ago, it arrived providentially in the house of the Pope,” said the pontiff. “Since then, it has found its place close to me and it has accompanied my daily service to the Church with a maternal gaze.”
The Pope said during this time he has often invoked the Mother of God of Kazan, “asking her to protect and guide the Russian people, who are so devoted to her, and to hasten the moment when all of her Son’s disciples, recognizing themselves as brothers, would know how to recover the full the unity that was compromised.”
“Since the beginning, I have desired that this holy icon make its way back to Russian soil, where, according to reliable and historic testimonies, it was for many years an object of profound veneration for generations of faithful,” he said.
The Pope also commented on the strong faith of the Russian people. “Russia is a nation, which for many centuries, has been Christian – the Santa Rus’,” he said.
“Even when adversarial forces persisted against the Church and tried to erase from men’s lives the holy name of God, this people remained profoundly Christian, witnessing, in many cases with their blood, their fidelity to the Gospel and the values that it inspires,” he said with admiration.
The Pope also instructed the 10-member delegation to impart to the Patriarch and to the Russian bishops – along with the ancient image of the Mother of God – “the affection of the Successor of Peter for them and for all the faithful under their care.
“Tell them of his high regard for Russia’s rich spiritual tradition, of which the Holy Russian Church is its guardian,” he continued. “Tell them of the desire and the firm proposal of the Pope of Rome to proceed together with them in the journey toward reciprocal recognition and reconciliation, and to hasten the full unity for believers, for which the Lord Jesus has ardently prayed.”
The Pope then gave the icon to Cardinal Kasper, who will lead the 10-member delegation to Moscow. Edgar Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop of Washington and Joaquín Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See Press Office will be among the delegates.