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Pope returns rare icon to Russia

Cardinal Walter Kasper has handed a precious icon back to the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow as a personal gift from Pope John Paul II.

The image is an 18th-Century copy of one of Russia's most sacred images, the Virgin of Kazan, and was bought in the West by Roman Catholics in 1970.

Patriarch Alexy, the head of the Russian Church, thanked the Pope, who views the gift as a goodwill gesture.

But he also appealed to Rome not to try to "compete" for Russian Christians.

The icon was handed over by Catholic Cardinal Walter Kasper in a ceremony at the Kremlin's Cathedral of the Assumption after a service to mark the Orthodox Feast of the Assumption.

It is expected to be housed temporarily in a chapel at Patriarch Alexy's residence until a decision is taken on its permanent home.

The original Virgin of Kazan icon, named after the eastern Russian city where it was found in 1579 and used to inspire Russian soldiers such as those who fought Napoleon in 1812, is believed to have perished.

The Pope kept the painting hanging above his desk in his private apartments and showed it to Vladimir Putin when the Russian president visited the Vatican last year.

Speaking after the ceremony, Patriarch Alexy told reporters he hoped that the two Churches could agree not to "compete on the territory of Russia but... each minister to [its] believers".

For his part, the Pope said in a message that despite the division between Moscow and Rome, the icon was a "symbol of the unity of the followers of the only-begotten son of God".

Pope returns rare icon to Russia (BBC 28/8/04)

Icon Revered by Pope Returned to Russia (Associated Press/The Guardian 28/8/04)
Cardinal Kasper presents Karzan Icon to Alexis II today (Missionary Service News Agency 28/8/04)
Pope's return of Russian icon raises hopes of detente with Orthodox (Ecumenical News International 27/8/04)
Why the transfer in ownership of a Russian icon is a news story (National Catholic Reporter 27/8/04)
Pope prepares to return treasured icon to Moscow (The Tablet 28/8/04)
Moscow faithful hail return of cherished icon ( 28/8/04)
Icon shows East-West union, Cardinal Kasper says (Catholic World News 27/8/04)
Russian Patriarch rips Catholic attitude (Catholic World News 27/8/04)
Sacred icon returns to Russia today (Independent Catholic News 27/8/04)
Pope returns revered icon to Russia (The Independent 29/8/04)
Revered Marian icon returns to Russia (Western Catholic Reporter/Canadian Catholic News 30/8/04)
Cardinal Kasper Commends Unity of Catholic and Orthodox to Virgin of Kazan (Zenit 27/8/04)
Our Lady of Kazan icon arrives in Russia (Catholic News Agency 27/8/04)
Aleksij II: "Orthodox and Catholics together against secularisation" ( 29/8/04)
Pope: "The Icon of Kazan is a symbol of unity of East and West" ( 29/8/04)
Pope: "Today's martyrs, the Church is close to you" ( 29/8/04)

30 Aug 2004