When the pope and the patriarch come together for the first time today after 1000 years, one of Christianity’s most enduring divisions could edge closer to becoming ancient history.
The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have been at odds for over 1,000 years. Today’s meeting in Havana — where Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will sign a joint accord — could be a critical step towards helping heal the rift.
But while the Vatican billed the religious rendezvous as an “important stage” and sign of hope, the event could be more about symbolism than substance.
There are more than 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. That number dwarfs the overall Orthodox congregation of 225 million — which is divided between the 15 separate and equal eastern churches. The Moscow Patriarchate oversees the largest flock of about 160 million people.
Not only is it larger, but the Catholic Church has its own state: the Vatican. The Moscow Patriarchate, meanwhile, is closely aligned with the Russian government.
Why Are They Different?
On many major theological issues Catholics and Russian Orthodox Christians remain closely aligned. But the issues that divide them run deep.
The central theological divide dates back to the eighth century and is based in differing philosophical interpretations of the Holy Trinity — the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Christianity.
The Orthodox Church also does not believe in purgatory, which Catholics believe precedes heaven.
There’s the key political distinction — the Orthodox Church totally rejects papal authority — and differences on social issues. The Orthodox Church is more hardline on homosexuality, while Pope Francis famously said: “Who am I to judge?”
The question of clerical marriage is also treated differently by the Russian Church, in which parish-level priests are permitted to be ordained as married men.
Why Meet Now?
While there’s huge symbolic significance to the pope and patriarch’s meeting, experts do not anticipate any major progress on the issues that have stood between their two churches for many centuries.
It’s important to remember that while Kirill represents the largest flock of Orthodox, he doesn’t speak for the whole Eastern church.
Still, that’s not to say that overall progress isn’t possible.
In any case history is set to be made today in Havana, Cuba and it is great to be here.
The trip was designed for the pope and his entourage to return each night to Mexico City.
For the first time since becoming leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis will visit Mexico, home to the world’s second largest population of Catholics. The pontiff’s six-day pilgrimage includes stops in states known for poverty, cartel violence and migratory routes.
1. Mexico City
Feb. 12-13: After a stop at the National Palace to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, the pope will deliver a homily at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a shrine to Mexico’s most revered saint. What’s the significance? The federal district is Mexico’s economic and political hub and home to its most famous religious icon: La Virgen de Guadalupe. Catholics travel from around the world to pay respect to the image of the Virgin Mary, and the pope recently told reporters that visiting Mexico without making a stop at the shrine “would have been a slap” in the face.
Key statistic: An average of 14,000 people visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe each month, making it the most visited Marian shrine in the world.
2. Ecatepec and Mexico City
Feb. 14: Francis plans to deliver a homily at a university campus before returning to Mexico City to visit a children’s hospital.
What’s the significance? Local religious leaders say stopping in Ecatepec — one of the most crowded, most violent and impoverished parts of the country — represents the pope’s dedication to the poor and downtrodden. Ecatepec is in the state of Mexico, which has one of the nation’s highest homicide rates for women. In July, Mexico’s Secretariat of the Interior declared an alert in the state of Mexico, highlighting Ecatepec as one of the most dangerous places for women.
Key statistic: Though records indicate that 840 women were killed in the state of Mexico between 2011 and 2013 and only 145 were investigated as homicides, the local prosecutor’s office reported that more than 1,200 women in the state disappeared in 2011 and 2012 alone.
Feb. 15: In San Cristóbal de las Casas, Francis will meet with members of Chiapas’ indigenous community before traveling to Tuxtla Gutiérrez to meet with local families.
What’s the significance? During the 1990s, the Zapatista rebellion in the southernmost state of Chiapas jolted Mexico’s political establishment and introduced much of the world to the plight of the country’s native people. During the deadly uprising, leftist Zapatistas seized many of the state’s big cities and battled the Mexican army. Before the Vatican announced which states the pope would visit, bishops from Chiapas — where more than 60% of worshipers are indigenous — sent a pitch asking him to visit them and describing the diocese’s population as very poor and still marginalized. Because of its long border with Guatemala, Chiapas is also a major migratory route for Central Americans headed to the U.S.
Key statistic: More than 36% of Chiapas’ population identifies as indigenous — nearly double the national average. It’s also the Mexican state with the highest percentage — 29% — of people who speak an indigenous language but no Spanish.
Feb. 16: The pope will celebrate a Mass for seminarians, visit the local cathedral and meet with a group of young people at a soccer stadium.
What’s the significance? Drug cartel violence has long plagued Michoacán, a plentiful agricultural state not far from Mexico City. The carnage escalated in 2013 as vigilante “self-defense” groups began to fight back against members of the Knights Templar cartel and local authorities, who themselves often had links to organized crime. The violence ballooned again last year in the months leading up to the country’s midterm elections — more than 40 people died in a May gun battle between police and suspects. The state is also the birthplace of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, who founded the ultraconservative Catholic order Legion of Christ and became one of the highest-ranking Catholic priests ever disciplined for sex abuse.
Key statistic: Of the 904 intentional homicides in Michoacán in 2014, 594 of them were organized-crime-style killings.
Feb. 17: After meeting with convicts at the city’s infamous Cereso prison, the pontiff will celebrate Mass at the fairground.
What’s the significance? Ciudad Juárez, a factory town just across the border from El Paso, has a reputation for brutal violence fueled by turf battles among drug cartels and a federal crackdown on organized crime. As the bloodshed escalated in the mid-2000s, news of beheadings and daytime homicides captured international headlines. Before long, many Americans stopped making the trek to Juárez to grab food or to go shopping, further crippling the city’s fragile economy. The border town in Chihuahua also provides a stage for the pope to pontificate on immigration — one of the main topics he discussed during his trip to the U.S. last year.
Key statistic: During the last three months of 2015 and the first month of this year, U.S. Border Patrol agents in the El Paso sector apprehended more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors — more than triple the number during the same time period the year before.
Friday 12 February 2016
07:45 Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport for Mexico City
14:00 Arrival in Havana, Cuba at Jose Marti International Airport
14:15 Private meeting with Patriarch Krill of Moscow and All Russia (First such meeting in 1,000 years)
16:30 Signing of a joint declaration. Speeches by Patriarch and by Pope.
17:30 Departure from Havana airport for Mexico City
19:30 Arrival at “Benito Juárez” International Airport in Mexico City
Saturday 13 February 2016
09:30 Welcoming ceremony at the National Palace
Courtesy Visit to the President of the Republic
10:15 Meeting with Civil Authorities and Diplomatic Corps (Discourse by the Holy Father)
11:30 Meeting with the Bishops of Mexico in the Cathedral (Discourse by the Holy Father)
17:00 Holy Mass in the Basilica of Guadalupe (Homily by the Holy Father)
Sunday 14 February 2016
09:20 Transfer by helicopter to Ecatepec
10:30 Holy Mass in the area of the Study Centre of Ecatepec (Homily/Angelus by the Holy Father)
12:50 Transfer by helicopter to Mexico City
13:10 Arrival in Mexico City
16:30 Visit to the Pediatric Hospital “Federico Gómez” (Greetings by the Holy Father)
18:00 Meeting with the World of Culture in the National Auditorium (Discourse by the Holy Father)
Monday 15 February 2016
07:30 Departure by plane for Tuxtla Gutiérrez
09:15 Transfer by helicopter to San Cristóbal de Las Casas
10:15 Holy Mass with the indigenous community of Chiapas at the Municipal Sports (Homily by the Holy Father)
13:00 Lunch with indigenous representatives and the Papal entourage
15:00 Visit to the Cathedral of San Cristòbal de las Casas
15:35 Transfer by helicopter to Tuxtla Gutiérrez
16:15 Meeting with Families in “Víctor Manuel Reyna” Stadium at Tuxtla Gutiérrez (Discourse by the Holy Father)
18:10 Departure by plane for Mexico City
20:00 Arrival at the airport in Mexico City
Tuesday 16 February 2016
07:50 Departure by airplane for Morelia
10:00 Holy Mass with priests, religious, consecrated persons, and seminarians (Homily by the Holy Father)
15:15 Visit to the Cathedral
16:30 Meeting with Young People at “José María Morelos y Pavón” Stadium (Discourse by the Holy Father)
18:55 Departure by plane for Mexico City
20:00 Arrival in Mexico City
Wednesday 17 February 2016
08:35 Departure by plane for Ciudad Juárez
10:00 Arrival at “Abraham González” International Airport in Ciudad Juárez
10:30 Visit to a prison (CeReSo n.3) (Discourse by the Holy Father)
12:00 Meeting with the World of Work at the Colegio de Bachilleres dello Stato of Chihuahua (Discourse by the Holy Father)
16:00 Holy Mass at the fairgrounds of Ciudad Juárez (Homily + greeting by the Holy Father)
19:00 Departure Ceremony at Ciudad Juárez International Airport
19:15 Departure by plane for Rome (Ciampino Airport)
Thursday 18 February 2016
14:45 Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino Airport
Five popemobiles will be on hand because papal flights to San Cristobal de Las Casas, Morelia and Ciudad Juarez would make it difficult to move the vehicles efficiently each day. Two of the popemobiles are being shipped down from the United States where they were used in September.
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