Vatican to return icon to Russian Orthodox Church

 The Pope has decided to return return a sacred icon of the Virgin of Kazan to the Russian Orthodox Church. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See Press Office, who is accompanying the Pope on his vacation in the Italian Alps said yesterday: "The decision is not related to the possibility of a meeting between the Pope and Alexis II in Russia, something which was clear from the very beginning. "The Holy Father feels the time is right to give it back to them." He explained that the icon, which has been in the Vatican for many years, will be given back on August 28, feast of the Dormition of Our Lady according to the Orthodox liturgical calendar. Before returning it, there will be "an act of devotion, not necessarily public, ... an act of farewell which concludes the pilgrimage of the Madonna of Kazan to Rome." With respect to relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, Navarro-Valls said that after the visit to Moscow of Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, they had improved. He said: "It is a long process, and the Pope hopes that the restitution of the icon will contribute to further steps forward. The signs of improvement in relations are reflected in bilateral conversations, in the mixed commissions to identify and resolve problems between the Churches in a climate of collaboration." Responding to questions about Patriarch Bartholomew's invitation to the Pope to visit Istanbul, Turkey on November 30 on the occasion of the feast of St Andrew, patron of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, Navarro-Valls said that "the Pope was grateful for the invitation but for the moment no decision has been made." Source: VIS