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Alexy to Putin: No Need for Papal Visit

 

8/16/2004 10:53:00 AM by Itar-Tass / The Associated Press - moscowtimes.com

 

President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Alexy II walking in a hall of the patriarch's Peredelkino residence outside Moscow on Friday.

 

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II emphasized Friday that Pope John Paul II is not welcome in Russia, reiterating that an icon the pontiff once hoped to return to Russia personally in a conciliatory gesture is a copy of a revered 16th- century work.

 

The patriarch told President Vladimir Putin that the icon -- known as the Mother of God of Kazan -- will be turned over to the Russian Orthodox Church at the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin later this month, Itar-Tass reported. But he said the icon, now at the Vatican, is "one of many copies" of the original.

 

"For that reason there is no need for the pope himself to bring it," Alexy said, Itar-Tass reported.

 

The Russian Orthodox Church had already said last year that the icon is a copy and could "under no circumstances be considered a reason" for a visit by the pope, and there was an agreement for other Vatican representatives to bring it to Russia. But the patriarch's statement underlined the persistent animosity between his church and the Vatican.

 

John Paul had been hoping to return the icon himself and become the first Roman Catholic pontiff to visit Russia, but tense relations with the Russian Orthodox Church have prevented such a trip. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said last month that the icon would be taken to Russia on Aug. 28 by a Vatican delegation.

 

 

Itar-Tass reported that two Roman Catholic cardinals are to bring the icon to Russia, where Alexy told Putin it will be handed over at the Kremlin cathedral.

 

"There is nothing new in negotiations with the Roman Catholic Church, except that on the Day of the Assumption, Aug. 28, the icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, which was stored in the Vatican, will be returned," Alexy said.

 

But he added, "It is one of many copies, not the original miracle-working image that disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century."

 

The icon, which first appeared in the city of Kazan in 1579, is revered by Russian believers for its purported ability to work miracles, including the rout of Polish invaders from Russia in the early 17th century. It hung in the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square and the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg before being taken to the West after the 1917 Revolution.

 

Alexy said that a joint commission including representatives of the Vatican, the Orthodox church and the Culture Ministry had opened the metal plating on the icon at the Vatican and determined that it was an 18th-century copy, the report said. The Vatican has never officially contested the finding.

 

The icon at the Vatican was purchased in the 1970s by a Catholic group that later presented it to the pope.

 

Tensions between Russia's dominant church and the Roman Catholic Church have deep historical roots, but they have increased markedly since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and communist restrictions on religion faded.

 

The aging pope's hope for a historic visit to Russia have been part of his efforts to promote greater Christian unity. The Russian Orthodox Church has strongly opposed a visit, accusing the Vatican of poaching for converts in Russia and other traditionally Orthodox lands.

 

 

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