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Sacred icon returns to Russia today

 The icon of the 'Mother of God of Kazan', a gift from Pope John Paul II to the Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis II, was on show in St Peter's Basilica in Rome yesterday, before it is taken back to Russia today by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. The holy image has been on the Pope's desk for the last ten years; the painting on wood with gold leaf measuring 31 cm by 26 cm and depicting Mary and the Child is thought to be a 17th or 18th century copy of a 16th century original, which has been lost. The icon left Russia at the start of the 20th century, and was displayed in various European countries, including the Sanctuary of Fatima in Portugal, before arriving in the Vatican. "Let this image of the Mother of God testify to the affection of the Successor of Peter for his Holiness Alexis II and for the venerable Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and for all the believers under them," Pope John Paul said during a ceremony in the Vatican on Wednesday. "Let it be a statement of his esteem for the great spiritual tradition of which the Holy Russian Church is a custodian. Let it testify to the desire and strong intention of the Pope to advance with them on the path of reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation to hasten the arrival of the full unity of believers for which Lord Jesus prayed so hard." During his pontificate, John Paul II has repeatedly encouraged rapprochement between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, which have been divided since the 'Great Schism' of 1054. So far, the government of Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church have rejected repeated requests by the Pope to visit Russia. Source: MISNA