The Holy See
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Moscow, Cathedral of the Dormition
Saturday 28 August 2004

Your Holiness,

I have the honour, on behalf of His Holiness Pope John Paul II and of the Delegation of the Holy See of Rome to which he has given this mandate, to greet you and with you, to greet the Metropolitans, Bishops, priests, monks and nuns present here, and the entire People of God of the Holy Russian Orthodox Church. The peace and grace of God be with you!

His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, has charged this Delegation on his behalf to present to you, Your Holiness, and through your Most Reverend Person, to the Russian Orthodox Church, this venerable and ancient Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, ardently venerated by entire generations of faithful of the Russian People.

The Icon, deeply rooted in the heart and history of this Country as the Protectress of Russia and of its people, left one day long ago and, winding her way through various Western countries, made a long stay at the Shrine of Fatima, Portugal, where she was venerated by many Catholic faithful.

Through a design of divine Providence, she arrived at last at the home of the Pope who has prayed before this sacred Image, asking the Mother of God of Kazan to protect the Russian People.

Thus, the Mother of God of Kazan, a venerated symbol of the 1,000-year old Christian tradition of the Russian People, and the help that she has lavished upon them in the most difficult situations of the long history of this People, thanks to her journey during which she was also venerated and invoked by many Catholic faithful, has gathered around her in prayer the two parts of Christianity and has also become the symbol of the deep unity in faith and love that exists between East and West, despite the deplorable misunderstandings and differences; she has preceded our commitments in order to recompose in fullness the unity of the Church of God, desired by our common Lord Jesus Christ.

Through this Icon, which is the focus of the veneration of countless members of the faithful, we Catholics express our high esteem for the great Russian Nation, for its rich Christian tradition, for the fidelity to the point of pouring out their blood of so many of the Russian faithful during the dark night of persecution and the oppression of a regime that was aiming to uproot the Christian faith and values from the heart of this people, which has remained profoundly Christian and faithful to the Gospel; through this Icon, we address our deep gratitude to God, to the One who has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly and humble (cf. Lk 1: 52), for the reawakening of Christian life in this Land.

Now that the glorious Mother of God of Kazan is returning to her Homeland and the Land of Russia, let us implore her to protect and guide her People towards a future that we hope will be peaceful and happy; let us beg her to intercede for the reciprocal respect and friendship between people of different cultures and religions, for peace in justice and freedom throughout the world; and let us entreat her to hasten the day when all the disciples of her Son will fully recognize themselves as brothers and sisters and will all be one, so that the world will believe (cf. Jn 17: 21); on the day when all Christians will sing in unison of the glory of the marvels, mercy and greatness of God.

I would like to end with the words that Pope John Paul II spoke at the Vatican last Wednesday, solemnly bidding farewell to this Icon: "May the ancient image of the Mother of the Lord tell His Holiness Alexei II and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Successor of Peter's affection for them and for all the faithful entrusted to their care. May it speak of his esteem for the great spiritual tradition of which the Holy Russian Church is custodian. May it speak of the desire and firm determination of the Pope of Rome to progress with them on the journey of reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation, to hasten the day of that full unity of believers for which the Lord Jesus ardently prayed (cf. Jn 17: 20-22)".

Your Holiness, I return the Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan to your hands. May the Most Holy Mother of God be the mother of her people and their refuge in all danger and need; may she be the mother of Europe and of all humanity; may she be the mother of peace in the world; the mother of the Church and of full unity between East and West; may she be our common mother, our advocate, our helper, and sustain us on our pilgrimage towards a future that we hope will be reconciled and peaceful. Holy Mary, intercede for us!