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Altar of the Chair in St Peter's Basilica
Thursday 26 August 2004


This morning, let us pause in prayer before the ancient and venerable Icon of the Mother of God of Kazan. The Icon, venerated down the centuries by the Russian People and kept for years in the Papal Apartments, is now on the point of returning, so to speak, home as a gift of the Holy Father to His Holiness Alexei II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

This gesture, as John Paul II explained yesterday, shows the affection of the Successor of Peter for the Patriarch, for the Synod of the Orthodox Church and for the Russian People; at the same time, it expresses "the desire and firm determination of the Pope of Rome to progress with them on the journey of reciprocal knowledge and reconciliation", so that the full unity of Christ's disciples may be achieved as soon as possible.

Mary has always exercised an astonishing fascination and attracts pilgrims and the faithful in every part of the world. In East and West, Christians have recourse to her in all circumstances, especially in the most difficult ones. Believers turn their trusting gaze to her throughout their lives. This is because they feel that Mary is their Mother and Protectress.

Mary, Virgin Mother of God! This is the title under which Our Lady has been honoured since antiquity. It evokes the whole mystery of salvation: indeed, closely associated with the mission of her divine Son Jesus, Mary has become Mother of the Church, Mother of the entire human race: the gifts of salvation abound in her, in anticipation of what was to be brought about for all who open their heart to Christ.

This is why the Magnificat of the lowly handmaiden of the Lord - "he who is mighty has done great things for me" - echoes the universal admiration of all who from generation to generation continue to proclaim her "blessed".

Several days ago the Liturgy enabled us to contemplate her "Assumption into Heaven", where she sits as Queen of Glory and Mercy; today, as we venerate her in this holy Icon, we join in spirit all who observe her devotion and on the occasion of one of her feast days flock to Marian shrines all over the world, seeking strength and support, especially in times of tribulation. Mary continues to shine as a bright star in the skies of history, and her radiance is all the brighter when the climate on Earth seems to be gathering dark clouds of violence and death.

"Ecce Mater tua. Behold your Mother". Mary, our Mother! We can say that these words contain the whole of Marian theology, the only words that Jesus ever spoke about Mary: they express the lovingness of his farewell.

As he was dying, Jesus entrusted us to his Mother for ever and since that day, Mary has walked with the Church, accompanying us on our journey through time to eternity.

If at times the suffering of the Cross seems daunting, Our Lady's presence reassures us and leads us to Christ, who was crucified and raised for our sake.

In one of his most expressive passages, St Bernard invites us in the midst of life's difficulties to look up at the stars and call on Mary: "Respice stellam, voca Mariam". Mary is the star of hope and the anchor of our salvation.

"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord". As we look at Mary, let us make our own these words of the Prophet Isaiah that we have just heard. From her, full of grace, we receive the gift of Christ's joy, that is, the secret of the peace of hearts, the peace of families and communities, the peace of the world.

We are always in need of joy, serenity and peace. May the Holy Mother of God of Kazan obtain it for us. To her we address the age-old invocation of the faithful that has rung out in this Vatican Basilica so many times, "Sub tuam praesidium confugimus!".