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Pope voices readiness to return Russia's most sacred icon

VATICAN CITY, March 28 (Itar-Tass) - Vatican is wishing to return to Russia the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which is probably the most venerated icon of Virgin Mary in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pope John Paul II mentioned his readiness to return the icon to Russia as he was receiving the speaker or Russian parliament's upper house, Sergei Mironov, here Friday.

When correspondents interviewed Mironov after the reception, he said neither Russian nor Vatican officials had discussed the possibility of a papal visit to Russia during the meeting. Some earlier reports in the Russian media indicated that the Pope's trip to Moscow was conditioned on the repatriation of the holy relic.

Vatican State Secretary, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said during the papal audience Russia and the Holy See were clearing the recent administrative problems with Roman Catholic priests in Russia and there were no grounds for concern.

In the Russian Orthodoxy, the icon of Our Lady of Kazan is number one most treasured image of Virgin Mary. Church tradition says it was found in the city of Kazan on the Volga at the very end of the 16th century, 26 years after the conquest of the place by the troops of Ivan the Terrible. The discovery of the icon in the dirt-floor of a courtyard was

followed, according to the Church records, by numerous miracles. It was soon adopted by the Russian military commanders as the patron icon of the troops.

In 1612, Patriarch Hermogenes of Moscow asked the priests of Kazan to send the icon to Moscow, then under the power of invading Polish troops. The ceremony of blessing of the warriors, commanded by Prince Dmitry Pozharski, was followed by an assault on the Moscow Kremlin and the restoration of Russian rule in the city and, subsequently, in the greater part of the then Russia.

It was the liberation of Moscow that brought to power the Romanovs dynasty, the one to rule the country for the next 300 years. The Romanov czars never forgot the event, believing they were obliged for it to the intercession of Our Lady and to the blessing of troops with her Holy Icon.

In subsequent centuries, several thousand churches dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan were built around the land, including the majestic Kazanski Cathedral in St Petersburg. Dozens of copies of the icon also proved miracle working.

In 1904, the icon was stolen from Russia and taken abroad by a certain Chaikin. Destiny eventually brought it to the Papal apartments, where it is kept among several revered icons. Vatican's consent to return it to the Russian Orthodox Church followed long and delicate negotiations by many public figures and officials.

Sources say the icon will be taken back to Kazan, the city where it was found more than 400 years ago.

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