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In the last few months there has been much talk about the Vatican's restitution of the famous icon called "the Mother of God of Kazan" to the Russian people. The restitution ceremony, which put the icon in the hands of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexej II, took place in Moscow's Kremlin Cathedral on August 28th, on the day, according to the Orthodox liturgical calendar, when Mary was taken into heaven. On this occasion, an official delegation from the Vatican, led by cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, gave the icon to the Patriarch during a liturgy according to the Eastern rite. This happened after a long odyssey which ended ten years ago in the Pope's private apartments in the Vatican: finally it has come home. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls explained that the gift of the icon recalled the Pope's desire «that this Roman pilgrimage of the Madonna of Kazan may contribute to the hoped-for unification between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches».


Among the various official exponents who participated in the ceremony, there was also the mayor of Kazan, Kamil Iskhakov, a Muslim. For several years now he has already committed himself to the return of the icon to Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. Cardinal Kasper reassured him that the Orthodox Patriarch intends to bring the icon back to its place of origin as soon as the restoration work on the cathedral is finished, which should be in the summer of 2005. The mayor of Kazan however is already thinking about a new project, that is, the construction of a new Marian sanctuary, open to Muslims as well as Catholics and Orthodox. The sanctuary would stand on the place where the icon was found in 1579. More than half of the population of Tatarstan is Muslim and it is a precious model of peaceful cohabitation among the three monotheistic religions.