Russian Prime Minister Wants Pope to Visit

Expelled Catholic Bishop Is Replaced

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ROME, APRIL 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov supported John Paul II's wish to visit Russia, and said his government is doing everything possible to overcome the opposition of the Orthodox Church.



"I think that the efforts made until now and the ones we are making to eliminate the differences between the two Churches will be crowned with success," Kasyanov said during a press conference Friday with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, while on a visit to Rome.

For his part, Berlusconi said that he has requested a meeting with Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

John Paul II would like to stop over in Kazan, 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Moscow, during his August visit to Mongolia, Vatican sources disclosed recently. It would mark the first time this Pope steps on Russian soil.

The Pope's objective is to return the icon of Our Lady of Kazan to the Russian Orthodox Church. The image is one of the most venerated by Russian faithful. It arrived in the Vatican in the 1990s, after being lost when the Bolsheviks came to power.

For years the icon was in private hands, until 1993 when it was discovered and given to the Pope. Since then, he has kept it in his private apartments.

Meanwhile, on Holy Thursday, the Vatican press office announced that Bishop Jerzy Mazur of St. Joseph of Irkutsk, in Eastern Siberia, who was expelled from Russia by the authorities with no explanations, has been named bishop of the Diocese of Elk in Poland.

To replace him in Irkutsk, the Pope has appointed Bishop Cyril Klimowicz, until now auxiliary bishop of Minsk-Mohilev, in Belarus. The latter was born in 1952 in Amangeldi, Kazakhstan.

The expulsion of the bishop and of several Catholic priests took place after the Pope established four Catholic dioceses in the Russian territory in February 2002.