Questions Arise Over Return of Kazan Icon to Russia

Vatican Looking Into Where and When the Image Will Go Back to Orthodox

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 15, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican confirmed that John Paul II wishes to return to Russian Orthodox faithful one of the most loved images of that country, the icon of Our Lady of Kazan.



A date and place for the return have yet to be decided. Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls clarified the issue Monday when asked by reporters about the Pope's possible stopover in Russia during his trip to Mongolia this August.

"The Holy Father's desire to return the sacred icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which for years has been cared for in the Vatican, to the Russian people and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, is well known," Navarro-Valls said. "The appropriate occasion and way of turning it over will be evaluated at the proper time."

Earlier Monday, a Polish radio station reported that John Paul II would stop briefly in Kazan, Russia, in August, as part of an already-scheduled visit to Mongolia.

In statements March 29 to the magazine Inside the Vatican, Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Russian Federation Council, said the Pope had confirmed his intention to return the icon of Our Lady of Kazan.

The leader of the upper house of the Russian Parliament explained that "the Pope said he wished to return the object of worship back to the country."

Mironov also said that the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, indicated that there were no serious conflicts between Russia and the Vatican, blocking better relations.

Mironov quoted the cardinal as saying that "the prior incidents have been settled and there are no grounds for new concerns."

In 2005, Kazan will celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of its foundation. The icon of Kazan was lost in 1918 after the Bolsheviks came to power. It was rediscovered and given to the Pope in 1993. Since that time, it has been kept in his private apartments.

The icon is considered by Russian Orthodox believers as miraculous and is known as "the Protection of Russia." The icon first appeared in Kazan in 1579. It is a depiction of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus.

The Italian ANSA news agency reported that the Vatican's statement is cautious, because according to information received from Moscow, the Pope's visit still does not have the approval of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, which is essential for John Paul II's visit to Russia.

In fact, the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate described as "absolutely improbable" the theory of a papal stopover in Kazan.

Spokesman Igor Vizhanov said that neither the apostolic nunciature of Moscow nor the Kremlin "knew anything" about a planned stopover in Kazan.