Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill emphasised their obligation as Christians and bishops to encourage collaboration among Christians and charity for all who suffer, during their historic meeting last weekend. “I felt an interior joy that truly came from the Lord,” the Pope told reporters travelling with him as he flew to Mexico from Havana, where he met the Patriarch, the most powerful leader in Orthodox world, the first time the heads of the two Churches have met. “It was a conversation of brothers,” he said. The conversation was marked by freedom and “complete frankness”.
Pope Francis said the joint statement he and Patriarch Kirill signed in the presence of Cuban president Raúl Castro “is not a political statement, it’s not a sociological statement; it is a pastoral declaration”. While the two leaders insisted on the need to stop the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa and condemned abortion and euthanasia, they used much more careful language to discuss two issues that made their meeting so surprising: the life of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the war in eastern Ukraine.
For more than 25 years, Russian Orthodox patriarchs have refused to meet a pope because of what the Moscow Patriarchate claims is “proselytism” on the part of Ukrainian Catholics, who belong to one of the Eastern churches in full union with Rome. The Church was outlawed under the Soviet Union and its rebirth with Ukrainian independence has meant a loss of both buildings and faithful for the Russian Orthodox.
Holy Father celebrates Mass in criminal ‘hunting ground’
Pope Francis began his travels to Mexico’s “peripheries” by visiting the overcrowded, sprawling settlement of Ecatepec, on the northern edge of Mexico City, known internationally as a hunting ground for girls to force into prostitution and for boys to enlist in the drug trade. Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Sunday in a vast open field with some 300,000 people in attendance. The high altar platform was decorated with Aztec designs made of flowers and petals.
More than 1.7 million people live in Ecatepec, which Vatican Radio described as “a lawless neighbourhood where organised crime, pollution and poverty reign and where most people fear to tread”, although it also has smart gated communities and a new shopping centre with dozens of shops and restaurants. Ecatepec has become famous as a place where it is particularly dangerous to be a woman because of murders, kidnappings and human trafficking. Sister Angelica Garcia Barela, a member of the Servant Missionaries of the Word, said she was thrilled the Pope was visiting. “He comes to show the faith and to change hearts. The Pope’s faith, his enthusiasm and joy, isn’t fleeting and it’s contagious. Much can change.”
Be kind, Francis urges patients
A little bit of kindness can go a long way when recovering from illness, Pope Francis told a group of young patients as he visited Federico Gómez Children’s Hospital in Mexico City. First lady Angelica Rivera and 38 young cancer patients welcomed him to the hospital’s oncology ward on Sunday, where Francis greeted all the children individually, handing each one a rosary. He gave one boy his own rosary, asking him to “take care of it for me and pray for me when you can”.
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