Moscow's Catholic Archbishop Kondrusiewicz and Papal nuncio Mennini will be part of the delegation handing over the gift.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) The icon of Kazan is a token of the "affection the Successor of Peter has for Russian Patriarch Alexis II, the Russian Synod, and all the faithful in their trust".
May Our Lady of Kazan intercede "so that East and West may be united as soon as possible," said the Holy Father this morning in the Paul VI Hall during the tribute he and others cardinals, bishops, faithful paid to the icon of Kazan.
The Pope is giving the icon hitherto guarded in the Papal apartment to the Russian Orthodox Church so that it may be venerated by the entire Russian people. He ended the ceremony celebrating the precious image by kissing it and then handing it over to the delegation that will soon bring it to Moscow.
Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will lead the Vatican delegation. He will be joined in Moscow by Mgr. Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Catholic Archbishop of Moscow and President of the Conference of Bishops in Russia, and Mgr. Antonio Mennini, Vatican representative to the Russian Federation.
During Wednesday's general audience the Pope devoted the traditional speech to his personal veneration of the icon of Kazan. "Many times," the Holy Father said, "I called on the Mother of God of Kazan to protect and guide the Russian people. A people, that of 'Holy Rus', which has remained profoundly Christian, its faithfulness to the Gospels written in blood" even when "hostile forces furiously attacked the Church and tried to wipe out the Holy Name of God."
The Pope concluded saying that the icon of Kazan expressed "the desire and steadfast will of the Pope of Rome to progress together on the path of mutual understanding and reconciliation" and "complete unity of believers" in Christ.
Following his speech a prayer by the Pope to Our Lady of Kazan was read in Russian.
Here is the full text of the Pope's homily:
Dearest brothers and sisters!
"As announced last Sunday, our traditional weekly meeting is different this time. We are in fact gathered together in prayer before the venerable icon of the Mother of God of Kazan on the eve of its journey back to Russia whence it came a long time ago.
"After travelling from country to country it was for a long time in the Sanctuary of Fatima, in Portugal, and it is from there that it providentially came to be in the Pope's home.
"Its place was thereafter by my side maternally looking over my daily service to the Church.
"How many times did I call upon the Mother of God of Kazan to protect and guide the Russian people, whose devotion to Her is second to none.
"How many times did I call upon her to hasten the moment in which all of her Son's followers will recognise their common brotherhood and fully restore their compromised unity.
"Ever since she came to me I wanted the holy icon back on Russian soil where, according to reliable historical sources, generation after generation of the faithful venerated it.
"The icon of the Mother of God of Kazan was at the heart of Russia's historical development. "Russia, 'Holy Rus', has been Christian for centuries. Even when hostile forces furiously tried to destroy the Church and wipe out the Holy Name of God from the lives of men, its people remained profoundly Christian, its faithfulness to the Gospels and their principles every so often written in blood.
"It is therefore with great emotion that with you I thank the Divine Providence for allowing me to give the holy icon as a gift to the venerable Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.
"Let this ancient image of the Mother of the Lord tell His Holiness Alexis II and the venerable Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of the affection the Successor of Peter has for them and all the faithful in their trust.
"Let it tell them of his esteem for the great spiritual tradition of which the Holy Russian Church is the keeper.
"Let it tell them of the Pope of Rome's desire and steadfast will to progress together with them on the path of mutual understanding and reconciliation so that Christians may soon reach that unity for which the Lord Jesus prayed so fervently (cf. John 1: 20-22).
"Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
"As I give the icon to the delegation which will take it to Moscow on my behalf, join me in asking the Blessed Virgin Mary for her intercession."
Here is the full text of the Pope's prayer to Our Lady of Kazan:
"Glorious Mother of Jesus 'who proceed before the people of God on the path of faith, love and union with Christ' (cf. Lumen gentium, 63), may you be blessed! Every generation calls you blessed for 'The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name' (cf. Luke 1, 48-49).
"Oh Mother! May you be blessed and honoured through the icon of Kazan whom Orthodox believers have loved and venerated for centuries as the protectress and witness of God's will in the history of our beloved Russian people.
"Divine providence, whose power can defeat evil and turn even man's evil into good, allowed your holy icon, gone for so many years, to reappear in the Sanctuary of Fatima in Portugal.
"Thanks to people who are devoted to you your icon came to the Successor of Peter.
"Mother of the Orthodox people, the presence in Rome of the Holy Image of Kazan speaks to the profound and lasting unity between East and West that divisions and errors men made could not break.
"Oh, Virgin! We raise with all our hearts a special prayer to you as we say goodbye to the image.
"Our hearts will be with you as you travel to Holy Russia. Welcome the praise and honour the people of God in Rome bestows on you.
"Oh, blessed among women! Venerating your icon in this city touched by the blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul allows the Bishop of Rome to be spiritually one with his fellow Bishop, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
"He asks you, Holy Mother, to intercede that the unity between East and West and the full communion of all Christians may come soon.
"Oh, Glorious and Blessed Virgin! You, who are Our Lady and advocate! You who console us! Reconcile us to Your Son; commend us to Your Son; introduce us to Your Son!