Putin welcomes Greek 'fertility-boosting' relic to Russia
Vladimir Putin on Thursday welcomed to Russia a highly revered Orthodox relic credited with fertility-boosting powers as his country struggles to halt a population decline.
The relic venerated by believers as the belt of the Virgin Mary arrived on loan from violence-hit Greece in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg where hundreds, mostly women, waited patiently to pay their respects.
Prime Minister Putin, who plans to reclaim the presidency next year and has never in his decade in power missed a chance to promote himself as a virile alpha male, travelled to the city's airport to meet the relic.
"Monks from the Vatopedi monastery accompanying the (relic) showed Vladimir Putin the reliquary containing the belt," the Russian government said in a statement.
Arriving in Russia for the first time from its home on Mount Athos in Greece, the relic, whose full name is the Belt of the Mother of God, will remain in Russia's former imperial capital until Monday.
Hundreds of people, mostly women, were standing in line in Russia's second city, also Putin's hometown, to see one of the most treasured Orthodox relics, which is believed to have miraculous powers to boost fertility.
It will then be taken on a month-long tour across the country, with stops including the northern city of Norilsk, the Pacific port of Vladivostok, the western exclave city of Kaliningrad and Moscow.
Clerics said they hoped the relic would help more Russian women become mothers as the influential Russian Orthodox Church is actively promoting motherhood to help the government curtail a population decline.
Church officials in several cities plan to take the relic to pregnancy centres that counsel women contemplating an abortion, the Russian Orthodox Church said.
"This event is of huge significance especially when it comes to strengthening people's faith," Father Kirill, a spokesman for the Saint Petersburg diocese, told AFP.
"And the fact that this is such a singular relic helping women is especially important for our city and our country, where the demographic situation leaves much to be desired."
Russian leaders have called the shrinking population a matter of national security.
The country's latest census released earlier this year showed that the country's population had shrunk by 2.2 million people since 2002 and now stands at 142.9 million.
"It's a serious problem and an important topic for our country," the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, said this week.
© 2011 AFP