About M. Dimitry Khafizov's visit to Soufanieh.

In 1579 the Mother of God appeared to a ten-year-old girl, Matrona, in Kazan, Russia and told her to dig in the ashes of a burnt house. In the ashes, she found a beautiful icon of the Mother of God with the Christ Child standing next to her. Immediately, miracles were associated with the icon. In 1612, the icon was used by a Russian volunteer army to expel the Poles who had occupied Moscow. The Kazan icon became one of the most important icons in Russia.

Matrona became a nun, and a monastery site of the apparitions where Matrona lived the rest of her life. In 1904 the Kazan icon that was kept at the monastery was destroyed by thieves. After the communists lost power in the Soviet Union, the City of Kazan became very interested in again having an important Kazan icon for the City. There were rumors in the late 1990s that Pope John Paul II had a beautiful Kazan icon in his personal chapel. Dmitri Khafizov was the representative of the City of Kazan who worked tirelessly over the next five years to obtain this icon for the City of Kazan.

In August 2004 Pope John Paul II gave the icon to Cardinal Kasper, who took it to Moscow and gave it to Patriarch Aleksy. In July 2005 the Patriarch gave the icon to Kazan. There is now a major project to rebuild the monastery at the apparition site and to make a major pilgrimage center there. The communists had converted the monastery into a tobacco factory.

There are many more details to the story that Dmitri will tell you. He has just completed a major documentary film (100 minutes) on the recent history of the Vatican Kazan icon. There is both a Russian and English version. I am sure that Dmitri will give you a copy of the DVD when he comes to Damascus.

Kazan is a city with a population of over one million and is the capital of Tatarstan. Kazan is the largest predominately Moslem city in the Russian Federation. Both the President of Tatarstan and the Mayor of Kazan are Moslem. Tatarstan and Kazan are both known for their excellent relations between Moslems, Orthodox, and Catholics. In 2005, Kazan celebrated 1000th anniversary of its founding of Kazan. For the millennium celebration, the City of Kazan rebuilt both the Orthodox cathedral and the Moslem mosque located in the Kazan Kremlin. The cathedral and the mosque stand next to each other. The City also rebuilt the church at the monastery to be the home of the Vatican Kazan icon. The City of Kazan is also helping the small Catholic parish in Kazan to build a new church.

The Vatican Kazan icon at the monastery in Kazan has already had many visitors including President Putin. Pilgrims have left gold objects at the monastery for favors received through the Vatican icon. Approximately half of the gold objects left were from Moslems. Last November, the Mayor of Kazan and Dmitri visited the mayors of Fatima and Lourdes and were very well received. Even though the Mayor of Kazan is Moslem, he is very enthusiastic about making a major pilgrimage center at Kazan.

Dmitri has recently been considering the name of the pilgrimage center. It appears that it will be named after the Queen of Heaven, because both Moslems, Orthodox, and Catholic can agree that Mary is the Queen of Heaven. (A title such as the Mother of God would be a problem for Moslems.)

In my opinion the new shrine at Kazan can be a symbol and center of reconciliation of Moslems, Orthodox, and Catholics through Mary. It is particularly interesting to me that the same could be true for the Soufanieh icon. The Soufanieh icon is a copy of the Kazan icon. The Soufanieh icon has been particularly associated with the reconciliation between Orthodox and Catholics, and many of the spiritual events involving Myrna and the icon have occurred when Orthodox and Catholic Easters fall on the same date. Soufanieh is in Damascus, Syria, an overwhelmingly Moslem country and city. There seem to be many common features between Soufanieh and Kazan. Maybe Our Lady has a similar plan for both locations and icons.

When Dmitri is in Damascus, it might also be interesting for him to visit the monastery at Saidnaya. As you know, that is also a Marian shrine of great importance to Moslems.

Dmitri will be arriving in Damascus on Friday and I hope that it will be a great visit for all of you.

Yours in Christ and the Mother of God, Peter Anderson