Next Friday, 12 FEB, Pope Francis is flying to Mexico City to begin a 6 day visit to that most Catholic of nations. While there +Francis will say Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. He will also journey to northern Mexico to visit the US Mexico border town of Cuidad Juarez. His journey will also take hime to southern Mexico to meet with indigenous Mexican people in San Cristobal de Las Casas.
But on his plane trip to Mexico, +Francis is making about a 2 hour layover at the airport in Havana, Cuba. Yesterday it was announced simultaneously from the Vatican and Moscow that the Pope will meet in an historic face-to-face with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, +Kirill. This is the first time in the history of Christianity that The Bishop of Rome, referred to by some as the Patriarch of the West, has met with the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. The meeting is the result of a reported two years effort through secret negotiations.
The two prelates are expected to sign a joint document, the exact contents of which at this time have not been made public. However, it is not about a healing of the historic schism between the Eastern and the Western Church. In fact there is still a large degree of animosity between Rome & Moscow, which is being temporarily put aside to facilitate this confab. The rumored topic of the meeting and the document is the highlight to the world the peril of Christians in the Middle East. Their numbers have been decimated in Iraq and Syria and face jeopardy in other Middle Eastern and North & Central African nations.
The meeting publicly contrasts the public persona of two very different Christian leaders. +Francis is the face of piety, refusing to live the opulent life of some of his predecessors. +Kirill, on the other hand, is just the opposite of the Pope, with well known lavish tastes and a penchant for expensive ski trips to Switzerland. Soon after his elevation to the Patriarcate, +Kirill was criticized for his fine taste in watches when his photograph was published on his website in which he was wearing a $30,000 watch. The photo was taken down and replaced by a photoshopped version whithout the watch on his wrist. However, the photoshop artist forgot to remove the reflection of the watch from the shiny tabletop!
The prelates will be greeted by President Raul Castro at the airport. The president will meet the Pope’s plane. Kirill will already be in Cuba on a previously planned trip. The two prelates are meeting in Cuba because +Francis reportedly told +Kirill to pick a time and place and the Pope would try to accommodate him. And Cuba is very neutral territory for the two leaders.