Kazan (AsiaNews) Aleksij II, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, delivered today the Mother of God to the city of Kazan, the miraculous icon John Paul II donated last year to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Patriarch, who arrived yesterday in the Tatar capital (800 km east of Moscow), celebrated the solemn ceremony on the Feast Day of the Mother of God (July 21) in the newly-restored Cathedral of the Annunciation.
It was the first religious service in the church for 80 years. Under Soviet rule, the cathedral housed a university.
Thousands of people took part in the liturgymany following it from giant screens set up outside the building.
Tatarstan's President Mintimer Saripovic and representatives of the Muslim community including the Grand Mufti of Russia were present.
Muslims constitute about half of the population of this Republic of the Russian Federation.
"A copy of the icon of Kazan has been brought to the city and shall be kept in the Mother of God Monastery, the same place that hosted the miraculous image in the 16th century," the Patriarch said.
In saying so, Aleksij II reiterated the Orthodox Church's claim that Pope John Paul II only donated a replica of the original. And in so doing, he is playing down the significance of the great gesture of openness the Pontiff made on August 28 of last year.
Until restoration work in the monastery is completed, the image will remain in an undisclosed location.
After the service in the Cathedral, the icon was taken in procession to the Mother of God Monastery where the Patriarch recited a moleben (a prayer of intercession).
During a press conference held yesterday, Aleksij II called Tatarstan a "good example of inter-religious cooperation".
"We must always consolidate peace and harmony among the faith communities. We must also bolster good relations between the Mufti and our religious leaders and widen and deepen these ties as much as possible," he said.
The Patriarch did not make any reference to the Catholic Church and Orthodox-Catholic relations even though Catholics venerate the icon with as much devotion as the Orthodox.