The Latest: Pope and patriarch sign joint declaration on religious unity – Crux: Covering all things Catholic

HAVANA — The latest on Pope Francis’s historic meeting in Cuba with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and his subsequent trip to Mexico (all times local):

4:50 p.m.

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill have signed a joint declaration on religious unity after their historic meeting in Havana.

The declaration calls for peace in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine and urges Europe to “maintain its faithfulness to its Christian roots.”

Before flying off to begin a five-day visit to Mexico, Francis said of his meeting with Kirill that “we spoke clearly and directly. I greatly appreciate his desire for unity.”

3:45 p.m.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church are exchanging gifts that are deeply symbolic and trace the history of the sometimes tense relationship between East and West.

Francis brought Kirill a reliquary containing a relic of St. Cyril, the 5th century archbishop of Alexandria who is revered by both Catholic and Orthodox churches. He also brought a chalice.

Kirill, for his part, offered Francis a small replica of the Madonna of Kazan icon.

In 2004, the Vatican had returned an 18th century copy of the famous image to Kirill’s predecessor, Alexy II, in a bid to forge better ecumenical friendship.

The traditional Byzantine gold-and-wood icon depicts the Madonna and Child. The original 16th century work was revered by Russian believers fo r its purported ability to work miracles, including the rout of Polish invaders in the early 17th century.

St. John Paul II had hung it in his private chapel after receiving it from a Catholic group in 1993. He had hoped that returning an icon so revered by him personally might forge better ties with the Russian church.

While welcoming the return, Alexy said since it was only a copy of the original 16th century icon that the pope didn’t need to personally accompany it back to Moscow, thus dashing his hopes for a visit.

2:30 p.m.

Pope Francis is meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in an historic development in the 1,000-year-old schism that divided Christianity.

Francis and Kirill embraced and kissed one another three times on the cheek as they met in a wood-paneled VIP room at the Havana airport. It was the first time a pope and Russian patriarch had ever met.

The Vatican sees the meeting as an important new step in its ecumenical efforts, but many Orthodox observers see Kirill’s willingness to sit down with a pope as more an attempt to assert Russia and Russian Orthodoxy at a time when Moscow is being isolated by the West.

1:59 p.m.

Pope Francis has landed in Cuba for the first-ever papal meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

12:10 p.m.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has brought supportive words for Cuban leader Raul Castro ahead of the patriarch’s landmark Friday meeting with Pope Francis.

Russian news agencies reported from Havana that Patriarch Kirill told Castro that the Cuban people “have proved their right to live in the way they believe is fit.”

Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency quotes him as saying that “heroism is a spiritual concept that cannot be learned from books. It derives from man’s spiritual life.”

9:50 a.m.

A spokesman for Patriarch Kirill says the head of the Russian Orthodox Church will be wearing his everyday vestments at Friday’s meeting with Pope Francis.

The meeting in Cuba’s capital of Havana will be the first ever meeting between a pope and a head of the Russian Church, the largest Orthodox Church in the world.

Kirill’s spokesman Father Alexander Volkov told Russian news agencies on Friday that the Patriarch will be wearing the usual vestments he wears for church services. That consists of a black cassock and a white koukoulion, the traditional headdress of Orthodox monks.

8:40 a.m.

Pope Francis says his deepest desire for his trip to Mexico is to simply pray before the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Speaking to reporters en route to his first stop in Havana, Francis said he knew that the Virgin is beloved to Catholics and even those who are not.

“This mystery that they study, study, and there are no human explanations,” he said. “The most scientific study says this is something of God. This is what I’ll tell the Mexicans, even those who say ‘I’m atheist but I’m a Guadalupeno.’ — Then he corrected himself: “Some Mexicans. Not all are atheists.”

Francis arrives in Mexico Friday night and he’s due to celebrate Mass in the Basilica of Guadalupe on Saturday evening. The trip to Mexico runs through Wednesday.

8:15 a.m.

Popes always receive gifts on their foreign visits, and Francis is no different, getting a sombrero, some chocolate chip cookies and a single white rose, which has significance for him. But Noel Diaz’s gift as the pope was flying to Cuba and Mexico was particularly heartfelt.

Diaz runs a Catholic TV station in Los Angeles that covers migration issues closely. He told the pope that as a child growing up poor in Tijuana, his single mother didn’t have enough money to buy him a new outfit when he made his First Communion. So at age 7, Diaz started shining shoes on the streets of Tijuana to earn enough to buy a new shirt and pants.

On Friday, Diaz gave Francis a custom-made shoeshine kit, “in memory of all those who work hard every day … those who get up in the morning and do anything to put bread on the table,” Diaz said.

And then he bent down and shined Francis’ shoe.

Francis inscribed a book Diaz had brought: “Thank you for your example. And please pray for me.”

Pope Francis says he plans to visit Colombia in the first half of next year if the Colombian government and rebels make progress and sign a peace treaty to end Latin American’s longest-running conflict.

Asked about his plans en route to Cuba and Mexico, Francis told Colombian journalist: “If the peace process goes forward and they sign, I promise that in the first half of 2017 I’ll go to Colombia.”, he would visit the country in the first half of 2017.

Colombian officials apparently are already taking that for granted.

President Juan Manuel Santos sent a tweet Thursday announcing a papal visit in the first half of 2017. He called the visit “very important.”

Francis gave a strong push to the Colombian negotiators while he was in Cuba last year, telling them they don’t have the right to abandon peace efforts.

The pope’s first stop this time again is Havana, where he’s to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in the aims of easing a historic rift in Christianity.

7:50 a.m.

Pope Francis is taking a big step toward improving relations with the Russian Orthodox Church by meeting in Cuba with Patriarch Kirill. But when might he visit Russia?

Francis was asked the question as he greeted journalists en route to Havana on Friday.

“China and Russia, I have them here,” he said, pointing to his heart. “Pray.”

Popes have dreamed of visiting Russia but the circumstances continue to dim any hope of a papal visit anytime soon.

The Alitalia jet carrying Francis and his entourage departed Friday morning from Rome’s airport. First stop is Havana’s airport, where Francis will meet for a few hours with Kirill in a ground-breaking step toward improving Catholic-Orthodox relations.

Francis will then visit Mexico, returning to Rome on Feb. 18.


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