News / Europe

    Pope in Mexico After Historic Call for Religious Unity with Russian Patriarch

    Pope Francis (L) and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto participate in a ceremony at the National Palace in Mexico City, Feb. 13, 2016.
    Pope Francis (L) and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto participate in a ceremony at the National Palace in Mexico City, Feb. 13, 2016.
    Ken SchwartzCandace Williams

    Thousands cheered and gave a warm welcome to Pope Francis when he stepped out his plane Friday night in Mexico City.

    This is Francis' first official visit to the heavily Catholic country. He was greeted by President Enrique Peña Nieto, first lady Angélica Rivera, traditional dancers, and a large crowd of admirers waving flashlights in time to the music from a band.

    Pope Francis arrived in Mexico hours after he and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church signed a joint declaration for religious unity.

    Their historic meeting was aimed at healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity.

    Pope Francis, left, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill exchange a joint declaration on religious unity at the Jose Marti International airport in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 12, 2016.
    Pope Francis, left, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill exchange a joint declaration on religious unity at the Jose Marti International airport in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 12, 2016.

     

    Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, and Patriarch Kirill embraced and kissed each other three times on the cheek as they began a two-hour meeting at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana.

    "We hope our meeting contributes to the re-establishment of this unity wished for by God," the declaration says.

    Kirill is on an official visit to Cuba and Francis made a brief stop in Havana on his way to Mexico.

    Great Schism

    The two branches of Christianity split in the Great Schism of 1054 over differences on theology and papal authority. The Russian Church also has accused Catholics of trying to convert followers in former Soviet states and satellites.

    Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (R), walks beside Cuba's President Raul Castro after his arrival at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Feb. 11, 2016.
    Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (R), walks beside Cuba's President Raul Castro after his arrival at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Feb. 11, 2016.

    But church officials say the persecution of Christians — Catholic and Orthodox — in the Middle East and Africa has helped bring the two branches together. 

    Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said last week the meeting has "extraordinary importance in the path of ecumenical relations and the dialogue among Christian confessions."

    He said Cuba was chosen for the meeting because "it is certainly a crossroad in the world of today."

    In November 2014, Francis had said he told Kirill, "I will go wherever you want. You call me and I will go."

    Most influential

    Other popes have met with Istanbul-based ecumenical patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but not the head of the Moscow Patriarchate, the most influential of the worldwide Orthodox churches.

    The pope is head of the world's estimated 1 billion Catholics. Russia's Orthodox Church has 165 million of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.

    In Photos: Mexico Prepares for Papal Visit

    • Catholic faithful cheer as Pope Francis drives by in his popemobile in Ecatepec, Mexico, Feb. 14, 2016.
    • Five-year-old Rodrigo Lopez Miranda embraces Pope Francis, during his visit to the Federico Gomez Pediatric Hospital, in Mexico City, Feb. 14, 2016.
    • Pope Francis greets a child as he walks in procession at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe before celebrating Mass in Mexico City, Feb. 13, 2016.
    • This woman traveled from Panama to see the pope. She posed for a picture while waiting outside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, Feb. 13, 2016. (C. Mendoza/VOA)
    • Lottery tickets with the image of Pope Francis, Mexico City. (C. Mendoza/VOA)
    • Souvenir hats are sold along the route the pope will travel, Mexico City, Feb. 13, 2016. (C. Mendoza/VOA)
    • Thousands of faithful are coming to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass on Feb. 13, Mexico City. (C. Mendoza/VOA)
    • Security was tight days ahead of the papal visit, Mexico City. (C. Mendoza/VOA)
    • Images of Pope Francis are plastered all over Mexico City. (C. Mendoza/VOA)
    • Women drop off flowers at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe ahead of the papal visit, Mexico City. (C. Mendoza/VOA)
    • Pilgrims of all ages make their way to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to see Pope Francis, Mexico City. (C. Mendoza/VOA)
    • A vandalized photo of Pope Francis near Zocalo square in Mexico City. (C. Mendoza/VOA)

     

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: lone eagle from: Bangkok, Thailand
    February 13, 2016 2:50 AM
    The Church of Christ under Pope Francis and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church need to do more than have 2 1/2 meetings at airports to defend the most persecuted and discriminated group in the world, Christians: but need to reunite.

    In 2014 the International Society for Human Rights reported 80% of all acts of religious discrimination are against Christians, The US center for the Study of Global Christianity estimated 100,000 die every year because of their faith.

    In 2008, 500 Christians were hacked to death by Hindus in Orissa, India. In Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian Christians are fleeing Sunni Muslims and Israelis.

    In North Korea 25% of all Christians are in labor camps for refusing to join North Korea's pagan cult that worships Kim Il-sung.

    The 10 worst countries for the persecution of Christians are Yemen, Iran, Pakistan, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and North Korea.

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