08/26/2004, 00.00
VATICAN - RUSSIA
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"The handover of the icon of Kazan is an historic event"

Interview with Mgr. Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Catholic Archbishop of Moscow.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – There is no doubt that August 28 shall mark an important date in the relations between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

Speaking to AsiaNews about the transfer of the icon of Kazan from Pope John Paul II to Patriarch Alexis II, Mgr. Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Metropolitan of Moscow and President of the Conference of Bishops in Russia, said: "The Holy father is giving the icon to its rightful owner with joy and in a spirit of brotherhood hoping that it might bring mutual understanding. I hope that the icon's return might have positive repercussions on the relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches."

A Vatican delegation led by Walter Cardinal Kasper will hand the icon of Kazan over to Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II on Saturday, August 28.

For years the image of Our Lady of Kazan was kept in the Papal apartment in the Vatican and is now Pope John Paul II's personal gift to Alexis II and the Orthodox Church "for the veneration of the entire Russian people".

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz told AsiaNews that he has not met Alexis II for the past five years. "The last time I sat with him," the archbishop said, "was five years ago in November 1999 when the Inter-Christian Advisory Committee of Russia organised a conference in Moscow."

"I regard my invitation to the Kremlin as an invitation to renew [interfaith] dialogue with the participation of Russian Catholics". The Metropolitan pointed out that he does meet the Patriarch on official occasions such as the Kremlin receptions on Independence Day, Victory in Europe Day, the President's inauguration. But "these are not the best moments to discuss the serious problems in Catholic-Orthodox relations that have accumulated over the past few years." Giving the icon has none the less sprung new hope.

What changes do you expect to see in the ecumenical dialogue in Russia after the return of the icon of Kazan?

I hope the icon's return might have positive repercussions on the relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. My dream is to see the Russian Orthodox Church become an active and willing participant in prayers for Christian unity, especially in the week of January that is devoted to it. We are always open to a dialogue at all levels with our Orthodox brothers and sisters.

What would you like to say to Patriarch Alexis II?

If I had a chance to talk to him I would tell him that there is an urgent need to bear witness to the Christian message together in Russia so as to better face the challenges of the modern world. I would urge the Patriarch to work out with us those questions that still divide us such as education, charity, social services, protection of life, and opposition to secularisation. I would ask him to intensify our dialogue in theological matters. (AF)

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