Virgin Mary's belt arrives in Moscow before election
By Alfred Kueppers
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Russians lined up outside Moscow's central cathedral Saturday for a chance to kiss a relic of the Virgin Mary brought from a Greek monastery a few weeks before a parliamentary election.
The Cincture of the Virgin Mary, believed by the faithful to be the belt worn by the Madonna, is said to promote fertility and good health and was brought by Greek monks to Russia last month, greeted on arrival by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Putin, whose United Russia Party hopes to maintain domination of the lower house of parliament in the election on December 4, has long courted the Orthodox Church. A former KGB spy, he now portrays himself as a devout Christian.
"We have been married for nine years already, and we very much want to have a child, maybe this belt will help us," 32-year-old Irina Khilchenko said as she stood in near-freezing temperatures in front of her husband, Valery.
The couple, from Bryansk, travelled six hours by bus and had been standing close to the front of the line outside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour for about 13 hours to wait for the relic's arrival.
More than 2 million Russians have seen the relic in the past few weeks in cities including Norilsk, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, said the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation that arranged the tour.
The Foundation, chaired by the head of Russia's state railways and long-time Putin associate Vladimir Yakunin, said the relic's arrival shortly before the parliamentary election was coincidental.
"It is absolutely not related. We wanted it to come in the summer, but the entire process, the discussions, took a long time," spokesman Alexander Gatilin said. Continued...