From the heart of Russia

    Today I write to tell you about Dmitry Khafizov.

    Dmitry was a man with a large heart, and a larger soul.

    A mighty bear of a man… a good and noble man… from the very heart of Russia, from Kazan in Tartarstan… a Christian believer of Russian Orthodox faith… a man who, at the young age of 57, has now gone to his final rest.

    Dmitry died on Wednesday, April 21, in his home city of Kazan, the capital of Tartarstan. It is said that his death may have been due to the Covid virus.

    Farewell Dmitry, old friend.


    May eternal light shine upon him, and may he rest in peace. —RM

    Dmitry Khafizov, a Russian scholar and writer, died on April 21 at the age of 57. Dmitry was instrumental in bringing about the return of the sacred Icon of Our Lady of Kazan back to Kazan after many decades of absence from Russia.

    The icon, nicknamed “The Protection of Russia,” was lost to Russia just before the Russian revolution in 1917. Evidently, the icon was stolen from a Russian church, then sold to the West. Dmitry labored to trace out the history of what had happened to the icon, and became one of the world’s leading experts in the matter. I invited Dmitry to write several article for Inside the Vatican magazine about this history, and he did so. The articles were published and read by some in the circle of Pope John Paul II.

    What I did not know for some time was that the icon (or a very early copy of it, the matter is disputed) had already come into the hands of the Vatican(!) in 1993. It was in 1993 brought from Fatima, Portugal, where it had been kept in a special chapel there since the 1970s. It was brought at the request of John Paul II, after the Soveit union collapsed in 1991, because he thought it might now be possible to visit Russia, no longer communist. And he thought to carry the icon to Russia. It was brought from Portugal by… then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick(!), who was an advisor to the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima.

    When I learned that the icon was in the possession of Pope John Paul II, I called the Pope’s secretary, Don Stanislaw Dziwisz, and asked if we might meet. He agreed to receive me. It was late summer, 2001.

    I told Monsignor Stanislaw that I had traveled in Russia, had visited Kazan, had met Dmitry Khafizov and others, and had been told that the lost icon had been found, and was in the hands of the Pope.

    Venga,” Don Stanislaw Dziwisz said. “Come with me.”

    We went up a flight in a small elevator and came out in the Pope’s study.

    “There is the icon,” don Stanislaw said to me, in a low voice.

    I turned where he indicated, and I can testify that, with a certain odd feeling of vertigo — as if I were in the presence of an object that was both an exquisite work of art and a sacramental, a holy icon pulsing with a certain mystical energy — I myself saw and stood before “The Protection of Russia,” the icon of Our Blessed Mother of Kazan, hanging on the wall in the study of Pope John Paul II, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, in the summer of 2001.

    “Mary wants to return to Russia,” don Stanislaw said to me, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world to say. “We are trying to find the way.”

    He meant, it seemed to me, that the Virgin Mary, both depicted in and also “visible through” the icon we were standing in front of, wished to return to and be present in Russia.

    I told Dmitry I had seen the icon. Dmitry was very happy, and said he was committed to finding a way to assist the return of the icon, perhaps by having John Paul carry it to Kazan on an historic first papal visit to Russia.

    That visit, of course, never occurred.

    But Dmitry was nevertheless instrumental in bringing about the return to Russia of the Vatican icon, in August 2004, when now Cardinal McCarrick and Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s ecumenical office, together brought it to Moscow.

    That same icon is today in Kazan. It has come home, after so many decades, after the entire period of the Soviet Union. The Russian Orthodox Church has built a new cathedral to house the precious icon, and it will be dedicated in Kazan on the Orthodox feast day of Our Lady of Kazan, July 21, 2021– in just three months’ time.

    Dmitry’s passing means he will not be present in the flesh at that dedication, which was the chief object of his life’s work.

    But he will be present, I am sure, in spirit, as the return of the icon of Kazan to Kazan completes the work of his life.

    (Photo: “BUSINESS Online”)

    Dmitry of Kazan

    Dmitry Khafizov was my friend. I feel it is a privilege, and honor, to say those words.

    We met on my first visit to Kazan, in the summer of 2000.

    We talked, and talked, and walked, and talked some more. I was impressed with his extraordinary knowledge of the history of the icon of Kazan, and asked him to write a series of articles on the icon for Inside the Vatican magazine.

    Dmitry invited me to go with him and a group of youngsters to a summer camp outside of the city, on the shores of a clear, cold pond. He took me into the forests, and a taught me how to aim and fire a rifle. (I received a terrific jolt from the recoil in my shoulder, and did not hold the rifle steadily, and missed the target badly. He laughed.)

    In February of 2001, I was back in Russia, and met Dmitry in Kazan. One night, the temperature was perhaps 20 degrees below zero. I wore two ski parkas, one over the other. He slapped me on the back and said, “Isn’t this nice weather? Makes one feel so alive!”

    As I was leaving the city, I told him that I wanted to buy a little souvenir, a balalaika (a type of traditional Russian guitar, with beautiful paintings on the wood).

    “We will find one,” he said. He took me to one shop — no balalaikas. We went to a second shop. No luck. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But now we must go. You will miss your train back to Moscow.”

    I replied: “Then I will miss it.”

    He looked at me. “Ok,” he said. “I know of one more shop.”

    And we entered a third store, and there was a colorful balalaika, black and red and blue, which made the same plaintive sound that I recalled from the film Dr. Zhivago. “Now you can leave Russia,” Dmitry said, “carrying something of Russia with you.” And I took the balalaika, and we drove to the train station, and I caught the night train to Moscow…

    Years later, in 2013, when my boys traveled east to west on the Trans-Siberian railroad, starting in Beijing, coming up through Mongolia via the border post at Zamyn-Uud, then into Russian Siberia at Ulan-Ude, I told them to stop in Kazan. After many days of traveling through the vast forests of white birches in central Siberia, greeting Russian soldiers as they got on and off the train, sometimes lending them their guitars and singing songs with them, the boys reached Kazan.

    Dmitry came to meet them at the train station.

    “Welcome to Kazan, sons of Robert!” he said to them, embracing them with his typical bear hug.

    He escorted them around the city, as if he were their long-lost uncle, and he brought them to see the icon of Our Lady of Kazan. You may imagine how grateful I was to “Uncle Dmitry.”

    The boys then came on to Moscow and down through Ukraine to Kiev and Lyshnya and finally to Rome. We were able to stay together in the Domus Santa Marta (it was just after the Pope’s trip to Rio de Janeiro) and they were able to speak with Pope Francis for some minutes. They told Francis about their trip across Mongolia and Russia, and the songs with the soldiers on the train, and the visit to see the icon in Kazan, where Dmitry was their guide. And the Pope said that he appreciated hearing their stories, and believed they had done a good thing in sharing their guitars, because music is “a wonderful way to build bridges of friendship” between people of different nations.

    “Very sad,” Christopher just wrote to me, after I told him Dmitry had died. “He was one of the most vivid personalities I have met.”


    If souls may be likened to sparks of light, sparks born in eternity which fall to the earth like a shower of sparkling lights, similar to fast-moving meteors, brilliant in the night sky, shining for a time in our world before returning to whence they came, perhaps I may be permitted to compare Dmitry to a mighty meteor, bright and pulsing with a love of divine light.

    Dmitry was a spark of light and life and laughter in a world often more than half in shadow, the dark shadow of life-ending death — a death now trampled under by the work of Christ, Mary’s son, who accepted death to unwind the spell of death, “trampling death by death,” as the Byzantine liturgy proclaims.


    Dmitry bore witness to Christ with his whole life.

    Dmitry was a Russian Orthodox believer living in a city which is in some way the “spiritual heart” of Russia. Kazan.

    Far Kazan.

    Kazan is unique in the world.

    Sitting on the mighty Volga River, 600 miles directly east of Moscow, Kazan is almost (it seems to me) the beating heart of the Eurasian land mass, the beating heart of the central “world island”… an “island” which runs from Vietnam to Norway, from Portugal and Spain (but also from Morocco and Algeria and all of Africa, since the Mediterranean, as the Romans knew, is a bridge to the African continent, not a barrier) to Vladivostok and Kamchatka… the Asian-European-African island…

    So, the center of the great “world island.”

    We met in Kazan, at the center of the world, and we labored to do what we might to bring “the Protection of Russia” (the icon of Our Lady) back to the heart of Russia, to the heart of the world island.

    Dmitry exemplified a willingness to work together, to be together, to walk together.

    There was a closeness between our souls — Catholic and Orthodox, western and eastern.    

    We were as one as we worked towards a common goal — to bring the Icon of Kazan back to the House of Mary, Russia.

    It was just one example among so many in these past 30 years which affirmed for all of us at Urbi et Orbi Communications what our mission is — the restoration of Unity.

    We have been given a great gift by Dmitry and so many others — the gift of friendship, enabling us, slowly and painstakingly, to build a strong network around the Catholic Church and with our Orthodox brothers and sisters.

    This has provided the foundation for our greatest work, a work which we are about to launch worldwide: Unitas: “Come, Rebuild My Church.”

    We are looking for 24 “Elders” and 153 “Founding Members” (we already have 60 of these Founding Members) to become the principal sponsors of this work, which will use every means to restore unity within the Catholic Church and to recover unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

    With your support and encouragement, we will continue the work we began with Dmitry, bringing Mary back to Russia, and bringing the “lux ex oriente” (“the light from the East”) back to the West.

    Unitas: “Come, Rebuild My Church” will carry out initiatives to build this unity — within the Catholic Church and between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and in doing so between each of our souls and God one stone at a time… one living stone at a time, as with Dmitry… as with Dmitry, who has now gone on before us…

Above, an image of Dmitry’s city of Kazan

    No poetry could I find, to render more appropriate homage to Dmitry, yet I did come across some lines of homage written by Tartarstan’s late poet laureate, Dmitry’s fellow citizen, a Muslim Tartar named Ravil Bukharaev.

    Ravil too became a friend. He wrote these words 25 years ago to praise Kazan, the city he loved (from Ravil’s 1995 publication titled Kazan, The Enchanted City):

    How diverse is the enchanted capital, and how
     diverse are the people who live there! The
     history of any city is the story of each individual,
     the genealogical tree of each family, whole
     generations who lived side by side, sharing with
     their neighbors all the burdens and the rare joys
     which they experienced, especially in this, the
     tenth century of the existence of the city on
     the hills.

     Not much time is left before Kazan enters its
     second millennium. What will it be like then?
     The belief is strengthened when one looks in the
     the faces of the Kazanians, who have not lost
     faith in humanity, nor their craftsmanship and
     love of work, nor the great tolerance of their

     But one cannot live in the past, although the
     nostalgia is strong, and the lessons of history
     are instructive. The city is built for living, and
    not for memories.    


    Below are some rough Google translations of Russian reports on Dmitry’s death. I apologize for the roughness of the translations, but leave them so that you get a sense of the Russian language. —RM

    Note: If you would like to make a donation to support the work of Urbi et Orbi Communications, click here or on the button below:

Above, the beautiful Kazan on the Volga river at sunset

    Died famous public figure Dmitry Khafizov, who took an active part in the return of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God (link)

    At the age of 57, the famous public figure Dmitry Khafizov died. This was reported by members of his family.

    Earlier, Khafizov, who took an active part in the return of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God from the Vatican to Kazan, was diagnosed with a coronavirus infection.

    Khafizov has been working as a topographer since 1980. Two years later he went to military service in the ranks of the Armed Forces of the USSR. Then he worked at the geophysical works of the Mangyshlakneftgeofizika trust, then was a journalist for the newspaper Komsomolets Tataria and the magazine Tatarstan.

    Since 1996, he worked as deputy and then head of the department of historical research of the Kazan Council of People’s Deputies.

    Since 2003, he held various positions in the administration of Kazan, since 2018, in the MKU “Committee for the Development of Tourism of the City of Kazan.” Since 2008, the founder of the National Corporation Production Center LLC.

    Khafizov also worked on a voluntary basis. In particular, since 2005, he has been an adviser on religious issues to the mayor of Kazan, Ilsur Metshin.

    Earlier, in an interview with BUSINESS Online, Khafizov talked about the significance of the returned Kazan Icon of the Mother of God and why it was so important:

    “This place [Kazan] is the most holy, because the Mother of God appeared here. Not because of the icon. Do you understand the difference? The icon, as I always say, is a small, small pebble, and a huge mountain is exactly that the Mother of God appeared here. That is why they wanted to transfer the icon here. That is why the [Holy] Father wanted to come here,” he said about Kazan.

    Died Dmitry Khafizov, adviser to the mayor of Kazan on religious issues

    Farewell ceremony will take place at Holy Cross Church of the Kazan Male Monastery of the Mother of God on Saturday, April 24 (link)

    On the eve, at the 57th year of his life, after the discovery of a coronavirus in him, Dmitry Khafizov, adviser to the mayor of Kazan on religious issues, chief specialist of the tourism industry development department of the city committee for tourism development, chairman of the Tatarstan branch of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, died. Note that Khafizov played one of the most important roles in the return of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God from the Vatican.

    It is known that the farewell ceremony for the figure will be held this Saturday, April 24, at the Exaltation of the Cross Church of the Kazan Monastery of the Mother of God at 8.00. The funeral service itself is scheduled for 10.00. The civil funeral service and burial will take place at 12.00 at the Samosyrovsky cemetery.

    Dmitry Khafizov died in Kazan, who returned the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God (link)

    In the capital of Tatarstan, at the age of 57, the adviser to the mayor of Kazan on religious issues Dmitry Khafizov died, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported.

    With his participation, the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God was returned to Kazan from the Vatican.

    He was born on September 27, 1964, in Saratov. Graduated in 1993 from Kazan State University with a degree in History, and three years later received a diploma in Journalism. From 1996 to 2005, he was an adviser on culture and religion to the chairman of the executive committee, and then to the mayor of Kazan, Kamil Iskhakov. He held a similar post under the mayor Ilsur Metshin. Since 2018, he has been a member of the Public Chamber of the Republic of Tatarstan.

    Here below is an entry in Wikipedia about the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which was so important in the life of Dmitry Khafizov, who studied the history of the icon throughout his life.

    Many points are still obscure, and it may be that some points made in this Wikipedia report are not true.

    However, after reading the report, I found it useful, as it sets forth many of the points which are commonly believed, and which would have to be verified, or disproven, by scholars seeking to shed light on these matters. So, it seems useful to me to include this text, though I cannot vouch for the truth of every statement made in it. —RM

Our Lady of Kazan

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, link)

    Our Lady of Kazan, also called Mother-of-God of Kazan (Russian: Казанская Богоматерь tr. Kazanskaya Bogomater), was a holy icon of the highest stature within the Russian Orthodox Church, representing the Virgin Mary as the protector and patroness of the city of Kazan, and a palladium of all of Russia, known as the Holy Protectress of Russia.

    According to legend, the icon was originally acquired from Constantinople, lost in 1438, and miraculously recovered in pristine state over 140 years later in 1579. Two major cathedrals, the Kazan Cathedral, Moscow, and the Kazan Cathedral, St. Petersburg, are consecrated to Our Lady of Kazan, and they display copies of the icon, as do numerous churches throughout the land. The original icon in Kazan was stolen, and likely destroyed, in 1904.

    The “Fátima image” is a 16th-century copy of the icon, or possibly the 16th-century original, stolen from St. Petersburg in 1917 and purchased by F. A. Mitchell-Hedges in 1953. It was housed in Fátima, Portugal from 1970 to 1993, then in the study of Pope John Paul II in the Vatican from 1993 to 2004, when it was returned to Kazan, where it is now kept in the Kazan Monastery of the Theotokos. Copies of the image are also venerated in the Catholic Church.

    Feast days of Our Lady of Kazan are 21 July, and 4 November (which is also the Russian Day of National Unity).


    According to tradition, the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was brought to Russia from Constantinople in the 13th century. After the establishment of the Khanate of Kazan (c. 1438) the icon disappeared from the historical record for more than a century.

    Metropolitan Hermogenes’ chronicle, written at the request of Tsar Feodor in 1595, describes the recovery of the icon.[1] According to this account, after a fire destroyed Kazan in 1579, the Virgin appeared to a 10-year-old girl, Matrona, revealing the location where the icon lay hidden. The girl told the archbishop about the dream but she was not taken seriously. However, on 8 July 1579, after two repetitions of the dream, the girl and her mother recovered the icon on their own, buried under a destroyed house where it had been hidden to save it from the Tatars.[2]

    Other churches were built in honor of the revelation of the Virgin of Kazan, and copies of the image were displayed at the Kazan Cathedral of Moscow (constructed in the early 17th century), at Yaroslavl, and at St. Petersburg.

    Russian military commanders Dmitry Pozharsky (17th century) and Mikhail Kutuzov (19th century) credited invocation of the Virgin Mary through the icon with helping the country to repel the Polish invasion of 1612, the Swedish invasion of 1709, and Napoleon’s invasion of 1812. The Kazan icon achieved immense popularity, and there were nine or ten separate miracle-attributed copies of the icon around Russia.[1][unreliable source?]

    On the night of June 29, 1904, the icon was stolen from the Kazan Convent of the Theotokos [ru] in Kazan where it had been kept for centuries (the building was later blown up by the communist authorities). Thieves apparently coveted the icon’s gold frame, which was ornamented with many valuable jewels. Several years later, Russian police apprehended the thieves and recovered the frame. The thieves originally declared that the icon itself had been cut to pieces and burnt, although one of them eventually confessed that it was housed in a monastery in the wilds of Siberia. This one, however, was believed to be a fake, and the Russian police refused to investigate, using the logic that it would be very unlucky to venerate a fake icon as though it were authentic.[3] The Orthodox Church interpreted the disappearance of the icon as a sign of tragedies that would plague Russia after the image of the Holy Protectress of Russia had been lost. Indeed, the Russian peasantry was wont to credit all the miseries of the Revolution of 1905, as well as Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, to the desecration of her image.[3]

    After the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was speculation that the original icon was in fact preserved in St. Petersburg. Reportedly, an icon of Our Lady of Kazan was used in processions around Leningrad fortifications during the Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944) during World War II.[4]

    Another theory proposed that the Bolsheviks had sold the image abroad, although the Russian Orthodox Church did not accept such theories. The history of the stolen icon between 1917 and 1953 is unknown. In 1953 Frederick Mitchell-Hedges purchased an icon from Arthur Hillman. Although the status of the icon as the original Kazan icon remained disputed, Cyril G.E. Bunt concluded “that it is the work of a great icon painter of the 16th century […] the pigments and the wood of the panel are perfectly preserved as exhaustive X-ray tests have proved, and have mellowed with age”, suggesting that while it was a copy of the original icon, it was nevertheless the original icon carried by Pozharski in 1612. It was exhibited at the World Trade Fair in New York in 1964–1965. On 13 September 1965, members of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fátima spent the night in veneration of the icon in the pavilion in New York. The Blue Army eventually bought the icon from Anna Mitchell-Hedges for US$125,000 in January 1970, and the icon was enshrined in Fátima, Portugal.

    In 1993 the icon from Fátima was given to the Vatican and Pope John Paul II had it installed in his study, where he venerated it for eleven years. In his own words, “it has found a home with me and has accompanied my daily service to the Church with its motherly gaze”.[5] John Paul II wished to visit Moscow or Kazan so that he himself could return the icon to the Russian Orthodox Church. However the Moscow Patriarchate was suspicious that the Pope might have other motives, so he presented the icon to the Russian Church unconditionally in August 2004.[6] On August 26, 2004, it was exhibited for veneration on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and then delivered to Moscow.[7] On the next feast day of the holy icon, July 21, 2005, Patriarch Alexius II and Mintimer Shaymiev, the president of Tatarstan, received it in the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kazan Kremlin [ru].[8]

    The icon is now enshrined in the Cathedral of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, part of the Convent of the Theotokos (re-established as a monastery in 2005), on the site where the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was found, and plans are underway to make the monastery’s other buildings into an international pilgrimage centre.

Above, the Kremlin (“fortress”) of Kazan and the mosque of Kazan, together

    Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims live peacefully together in Tatarstan

    New York Times (link)

    By Sophia Kishkovsky

    Nov. 28, 2008, KAZAN, Russia — There are few spots on earth these days where religions mingle without rancor, or worse. But the Russian republic of Tatarstan has turned religious tolerance into its post-Soviet brand – a place where Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics mix and respect each other’s traditions.

    For the outside world, the latest proof of Tatarstan’s multifaceted religious identity came during an extraordinary appearance last month by the Muslim president of Tatarstan and a leading Russian Orthodox churchman at a conference in Jidda.

    Just weeks before, the consecration of an important Catholic church in Kazan was celebrated as an example of the Volga River region’s special harmony.

    “Tatarstan has already become an example – not only in the Russian Federation – of tolerance and friendship between different religions and cultures,” Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, said in his invocation at the church, according to the Tatar-inform news agency.

    In Jidda, the Tatarstan president, Mintimir Shaimiyev, who steered his republic past separatist sentiment in the 1990s toward broad autonomy within the Russian Federation, read a greeting from President Dmitri Medvedev that stressed: “Russia intends to stick firmly to its course to expand active interaction with the Islamic world.”

    The Reverend Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, spoke of Russia’s deep ties to Islam.

    “We are intermingled: Russia is inseparable from the Islamic world, as many millions of Muslims live there, and the Islamic world is inseparable from the Russian and Orthodox world, whose members live in so many Muslim countries,” Chaplin told the forum, the Interfax news agency reported.

    None of this surprises inhabitants of Kazan, a 1,000-year-old city in the heart of Russia, where Muslim minarets and Russian Orthodox onion domes rise in seemingly equal proportion.

    The huge Kul-Sharif Mosque, which in symbolism and glitziness evokes a Muslim version of Moscow’s vast, re-created Cathedral of Christ the Savior, was built within the city’s UNESCO-listed, white-walled Kremlin to mark Kazan’s millennium. It stands next to the 16th-century Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation and is meant to evoke a mosque destroyed by Ivan the Terrible when his forces sacked Kazan in 1552.

    Although the sacking still rankles over 500 years later, Russian-Tatar relations are notable for equanimity. According to Russia’s 2002 census, ethnic Tatars accounted for just over half of Tatarstan’s population. The census does not record religious adherence, but various estimates place the number of Muslims in Russia at 14 to 23 million out of a population of about 140 million.

    “This place is unique in the world,” said Dmitry Khafizov, a historian and adviser to the city government who was instrumental in the return to Kazan by Pope John Paul II of a famous 18th-century copy of a revered icon. The original icon is attached to a firm belief that the Virgin Mary appeared in Kazan in 1579, and directed a 10-year-old girl toward the image.

    Khafizov‘s evident pride in the Virgin legend was reflected by Reverend Sergei Titov of the Kazan diocese of the Orthodox church. “This is a multinational region,” he said. “It is essential to live together and be tolerant enough of each other’s values.”

    Muslims and Orthodox clergy are present at all official events and official buildings are blessed by both, said Titov.

    The local bishop, Anastasy, is “able to have relations with Muslims and Catholics and the authorities,” he said. “He is able to speak of his problems peacefully, with Christian love.”

    The post-Soviet era has fostered a resurgent Tatar identity, but has not resulted in religious fundamentalism. Young women in miniskirts and skinny jeans mingle in the streets of Kazan with veiled women, and far outnumber the latter.

    Moscow, has, in turn, “played the ‘Tatar card”‘ and used Tatarstan as “a kind of showcase of Russian Islam,” writes Aleksey Malashenko, a Russian expert on Islam with the Carnegie Moscow Center in a recent paper, “Russia and the Muslim World.”

    The peaceful mingling is not confined to officialdom. Earlier this year, foreign visitors searching outside Kazan for the Raifsky Mother of God Monastery, a spiritual center, were eagerly shown the way by a Tatar Muslim woman. In Soviet times too, said the woman, who gave her name only as Roza, she preferred Orthodox shrines to Soviet ones. Visiting Moscow back then, she said, she skipped Lenin’s tomb to visit the Dormition Cathedral.

    On a bench outside the monastery, Father Sergius, an 85-year-old monk, sat reading a book by Pope John Paul II – scarcely typical for Russian Orthodox churchmen, who often in the post-Soviet era have come to resent what they see as Roman Catholic proselytizing on Orthodox territory.

    “This is a very interesting book,” said the monk. “Pope John Paul says the right things.”

    Kazan’s pre-revolutionary Catholic church was turned into a wind tunnel by a Soviet research institute. Kazan officials offered to help finance construction of the new church to serve the Catholic community of several hundred.

    The August consecration was a duly official occasion, with local notables and Russian Orthodox and Muslim clerics joining Cardinal Sodano, and all exulting over the new home for the returned icon. The mayors of Czestochowa in Poland, Fatima in Portugal and Mariazell in Austria, towns in Europe famous for their shrines to the Virgin Mary, attended.

    Russian Orthodox critics accused the Pope, who died in 2005, of using the icon to try to fulfill his unrealized dream of visiting Russia. The image is especially credited here with saving Russia in 1612 from invaders from Poland, the late Pope’s native land.

    Kazan appears free of Catholic-Orthodox frictions.

    “We don’t have any problems with the Orthodox in Kazan,” the Reverend Diogenes Urquiza, an Argentine who has served the Catholic community in Kazan since 1995, said while the church was still under construction. “I know how it is in other cities and dioceses. To this day they can’t develop any relations.”

    In Kazan, he said, there is even a joint church summer camp for Orthodox and Catholic children.

    The Muslim-Orthodox rapprochement, meanwhile, seems fashioned as part of a larger Kremlin design to ease tensions with the Muslim world.

    “Since Putin came to power, there has been an attempt to position Russia separately from Europe in its foreign relations,” said Rafik Mukhametshin, rector of the Russian Islamic University in Kazan, referring to Vladimir Putin, now prime minister.

    “The attitude to the West is not always positive,” the rector said of the Orthodox church. “Here, I think to strengthen status, the Islamic factor is beneficial.

    “That’s why recently these kinds of thoughts have been expressed about Islam,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s a strengthening of tolerance, of interfaith dialogue. I think there are other goals.”

    In Kazan, said Titov, the reality of daily coexistence tempers politics and extremism. “Moscow’s thinking is ambitious,” he said. “Here it’s real life, an opportunity to live in peace.”

Facebook Comments