The Vatican this week returned a Russian holy icon to the Russian Orthodox Church, in an effort to ease tensions between the two Christian religions. Pope John Paul II had long planned to give the Kazan icon, an 18th-century copy of a 16th-century Madonna, to Patriarch Alexy II, the Orthodox leader. The pope wanted to deliver the icon personally on a visit to Moscow to symbolize reconciliation between the two churches. But the rapprochement faltered several years ago when the Vatican opened four new Roman Catholic dioceses in Russia. An angry patriarch then said he would not sanction a papal visit, but he did receive the cardinal who delivered the icon to Moscow this week. The Kazan icon, despite reprehensible misunderstandings and differences, has rewarded our efforts to restore the unity of all Christians, Alexy said.