Papal Homily at Celebration of the Word for Icon of Kazan

"To Hasten the Day of That Full Unity of Believers"

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily John Paul II delivered today during the celebration of the Word, over which he presided in Paul VI Hall, when handing over the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan to the papal representative who will take it to Moscow.



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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. As I announced last Sunday, our traditional weekly meeting assumes today a particular form. We find ourselves, in fact, gathered in prayer around the venerated icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, which is about to undertake the return journey to Russia, which it left years ago.

After having journeyed through different countries and stayed a long time in the Shrine of Fatima, in Portugal, more than 10 years ago it arrived providentially in the Pope's residence. Since then, it has been by my side me and accompanied me with a maternal gaze in my daily service to the Church.

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.

2. From the beginning, I have desired that this holy icon return to the soil of Russia, where -- according to reliable historical testimonies -- it was for very many years the object of profound veneration by whole generations of faithful. The history of that great people has developed around the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan.

Russia has been a Christian nation for so many centuries, it is Holy Rus. Even when adverse forces were ferociously against the Church and tried to remove from the life of men the holy name of God, that people remained profoundly Christian, witnessing in so many cases with blood their fidelity to the Gospel and to the values that it inspires.

It is, therefore, with particular emotion that I give thanks with you to Divine Providence, which allows me to send to the venerated patriarch of Moscow and All Russia the gift of this holy icon.

3. May this ancient image of the Mother of the Lord express to His Holiness Alexy II and the venerated Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church the affection of the Successor of Peter for them and for all the faithful entrusted to them. May it express his esteem for the great spiritual tradition of which the Holy Russian Church is custodian. May it express the desire and firm intention of the Pope of Rome to progress together with them on the path of reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation, to hasten the day of that full unity of believers for which the Lord Jesus ardently prayed (see John 17:20-22).

Dear Brothers and Sisters, join me in invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while I hand over her icon to the delegation that, in my name, will take it to Moscow.

[Translation by ZENIT]

At the end of the celebration of the Word, the general audience took place, during which the Pope greeted pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present, especially those from England, Ireland, Japan and the United States. My special greetings and thanks go to the young altar servers from Malta and their families. Upon all of you I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.