Vatican City - Inside the Vatican magazine is an excellent resource for anyone who follows Vatican affairs, and it is especially good on Russia and Orthodoxy, since these are strong personal interests of publisher Robert Moynihan. The magazine celebrates its 10th anniversary this week, and Moynihan marked the occasion with a May 15 panel discussion on the icon of Our Lady of Kazan and the possibility of a papal stop in Russia to return the icon to Patriarch Alexy II.
The possibility of a brief appearance in Kazan in conjunction with John Paul's anticipated August trip to Mongolia has been under Vatican consideration, but to date Orthodox authorities have reacted coolly.
The Kazan icon, through a circuitous series of circumstances, has been in the pope's private apartment since March 1993. John Paul has expressed a desire to return it to Alexy. It is a treasure of Orthodox spirituality that, among other things, was a dynastic symbol of the imperial Romanov family.
Recent analysis has raised doubts about whether the object in the pope's chapel is the original Kazan icon, one of three "great copies" commissioned at different times, or another copy made even later. In Orthodox tradition, copies of famous icons take on their luster, and can become equally venerated objects themselves.
The focus on authenticity alarms some who believe the potential importance of the icon goes far beyond antiquarian concern with when it was painted.
This point was made during the panel discussion by Frank Shakespeare, former American ambassador to the Holy See.
"If Alexy were to say that he's had a statue of Mary for 10 years in his apartment, that he has prayed to it so that this split which has affected all the civilized world could be healed, and he then proposed a meeting with the pope with this statue as the symbol of his hopes . If the split were indeed healed, that statue would become the most important statue in all the world," Shakespeare said. "That's what will happen to this icon if the spilt between Rome and Byzantium is overcome."
Moynihan argued that devotion to Mary through the Kazan icon could be a spiritual catalyst leading Russia to a new vision of the human person, which in turn could be the "conversion" of Russia predicted in the Fatima revelations.