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Pope prays icon return brings Catholics, Orthodox closer

Calling the Blessed Virgin Mary the "mother of unity and of love", Pope John Paul II prayed that the return of a Marian icon to the Russian Orthodox Church would bring the Catholic and Orthodox churches closer together.

Marking the Sunday's Feast of the Queenship of Mary, the Holy Father also expressed again his thanks to God and to the individuals who helped him make the previous weekend's pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

Speaking in the courtyard of his Castel Gandolfo summer residence, he prayed that "the heavenly mother of the redeemer would be more welcomed, loved and venerated by the Christian people."

Pope John Paul explained that an icon of the Mother of God of Kazan image, which left Russia sometime in the 1920s, "after a prolonged stay in different places, reached the apartment of the pope some years ago."

Since 1993, he said, he had kept the Marian icon above his desk, where it has "watched over" his daily work.

The pope said he was happy to announce that the icon, which is "very dear to me", will be taken back to Russia by a Vatican delegation and delivered to Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In a statement released by the Vatican, a mixed Vatican-Russian team of experts described the icon as a venerated 18th-century copy of the original 16th-century image. No older copy is known to exist in Russia.

Tomorrow the pope was scheduled to preside over a special prayer service, featuring a Byzantine hymn to Mary, at which he was to entrust the icon to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Cardinal Kasper is scheduled to to lead a Vatican delegation to Moscow at the weekend for a celebration during which the icon will be given to the patriarch.

Pope prays that return of icon brings Catholics, Orthodox closer (Catholic News Service 23/8/04)

Pope Expresses Love for Russia-bound Icon of Kazan (Zenit 22/8/04)
Pope announces return of Our Lady of Kazan icon to Russia this week (Catholic News Agency 23/8/04)
Pope plans farewell homage to icon of Kazan (Catholic World News 23/8/04)
Pope renews condemnation of cloning (Catholic World News 23/8/04)
Expectation in Russia for return of Marian icon (Catholic News Agency 23/8/04)
Russian Catholics hope to pray in front of icon of Our Lady of Kazan before it is handed over to Orthodox (Catholic News Agency 23/8/04)
Russian Patriarch says icon to be returned is a copy (CathNews 16/8/04)
Russian Orthodox Leader Snubs Pontiff (The Guardian/Associated Press 13/8/04)
Moscow Patriarch says Pope needs a better excuse for visit (CathNews 22/5/04)
New Kazakhstan Dioceses provoke sharp Russian reaction (20/5/03)
Russian minister claims icon in Vatican is copy (29/4/03)
Pope confirms intention to return Icon of Our Lady of Kazan to Russia (2/4/03)
Icon could hold key to Church dialogue (Catholic Weekly)

24 Aug 2004