A historic meeting has been announced to take place between Pope Francis and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I, on February 12th at the airport Jose Martí in Havana (Cuba). One can only hope that the outcome of this unprecedented event will lead to a reorientation in the debate about the meaning of universal values that will bring humanity further in the present global crisis. The historic meeting is the first of this kind after the schism between eastern and western churches in the year 1054, where a Pope meets the Russian Orthodox Patriarch. It must be seen as part of the efforts of promoting dialogue between the Eastern and Western Churches that were initiated under Pope John Paul II, followed under Pope Benedict XVI. “This meeting between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Church, which has been prepared for a long time, is the first of this kind in history and will mark an important phase in the relations between the two churches” a statement issued by both churches emphasized, which was read during a press conference by Vatican spokesman father Lombardi SJ. “The Holy Sea and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will be also a sign for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to intensively pray so that God will bless this gathering so as to carry good fruits.” (see also Zenit press agency report e.h.)

During a parallel press conference given by Metropolitan Hilarion, responsible within the Russian Patriarchate for the department of foreign relations, Hilarion underlined that one of the central themes during the meeting will be concentrated to the issue of persecution of Christians in many parts of the world. According to Zenit he stated,:“The present situation in the Mideast, North and Central Africa and other regions, where extremists are committing a true genocide against the Christian population, demand urgent measures and a stronger cooperation between the Christian churches”, he said. He further underlined that (…) “given the actual tragic situation it is necessary to put behind the differences of opinion and unify the efforts, in order to save Christianity in those regions which are facing tremendous persecution.”

Message for the New Year in China (8.February) given by a Pope for the first time

Pope Francis seems to accelerate his efforts in order to include the entire mankind in defining more clearly the universal values which mankind wants to defend at this moment of global crisis. This is expressed in an exclusive interview which Pope Francis last week gave to the news magazine “Asia Times”, the first interview of that kind given by a Pope. The interview, reprinted was conducted by senior researcher Francisco Sisci, January 28th, Asia Times columnist and senior researcher at China Renmin University who is also the first foreigner who was admitted to the graduate program of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The Pope during the interview spoke about China as a country, which “has always been a reference point of greatness. A great country, a great culture with an inexhaustible wisdom. For me as a boy whenever I read anything about China, it had the capacity to inspire my admiration I have admiration for China.” He told the interviewer that he was particularly impressed by the work of the famous missionary Matteo Ricci (…) and “he felt the same thing in the exact way I did, admiration and how he was able to enter into dialogue with this great culture with this age old wisdom. He was able to ‘encounter’ it..” The Pope further underlined that (…) “Ricci’s experience teaches us that it is necessary to enter into dialogue

with China because it is an accumulation of wisdom and history. It is a country blessed with many things. And the Catholic Church, one of whose duties is to respect all civilizations, before the civilization, I would say, has the duty to respect it with a capital “R”. The Church has a great potential to receive culture.”

Being asked about the “challenges” which China is facing and which those represent to the world, he described China as an old culture that with so much wisdom and in addition so much technical knowledge and age old medicinal techniques “cannot remain enclosed within a county; they tend to expand, to spread and to communicate …When that communication happens in an aggressive tone then wars result.” He underlined that it is a great challenge to keep the balance of peace. But that one should not be fearful. He emphasized that the “Western world and China all have the capacity to maintain the balance of peace and the strength to do so. We must find the way, always through dialogue; there is no other way” and that true dialogue does not mean to carve up humanity like a “cake” but that “everyone has an influence to bear on the common good for all.”

He made an interesting reference when he was asked about some problems which China has to face, including the ‘one child policy’: “Every people must be reconciled with its history as its own path, with its successes and its mistakes. And this reconciliation with its own history brings much maturity and much growth”, the Pontiff said. He underlined that he is however confident that the Chinese people will find a way to resolve the “tensions” which they are facing, since: “I believe that the great richness of China today lies in looking to the future from a present that is sustained by the memory of its cultural past.” He ended the interview by giving his greeting for the upcoming Chinese New Year of the Monkey: “On the eve to the New Year I wish to convey my best wishes and greetings to President Xi Jinping and to all the Chinese people (…). The world looks to this great wisdom of yours. In this New Year with this awareness, you may continue to go forward in order to help and cooperate with everyone in caring for the common home and our common peoples.”

Pastoral visit to Mexico

Shortly after the Pontiff’s historic meeting in Cuba, Pope Francis will make a five day pastoral visit to Mexico. In an interview which Professor Guzmán Carriquiry , Vice President of the pontifical Commission of Latin America, gave to the Catholic press agency “Zenit”, Carriquiry underlined the special importance of Pope Francis’s visit to Mexico. According to Carriquiry it is the first such visit in Latin America which the Pope devotes to one single country. The Pope will stay for five days in Mexico and “aside Mexico and the Philippines; as Carriquiry put it, “there is no other country whose people will so enthusiastically receive the Pope.” Carriquiry underlined that after Brazil Mexico is a country which has the largest catholic population and he referred to the enormous progress achieved in Mexico during the age of evangelization by Franciscan monks and pointed to the historic importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe, “who in the midst of unbelievable violent atrocities and conflicts became the mother of a new people and who accompanies the history of this country since then.”

The most important part of the papal visit to Mexico will include his visit to the basilica of the virgin of Guadalupe, who is the patron Saint of Mexico. Aside this as is reported the Pontiff has chosen three locations for his pastoral visit within Mexico which are symbols for bloodshed and violence in order to launch from there a message of peace and reconciliation.

This includes in the South of Mexico Chiapas, in the West Morelia and Ciudad Juarez in the North. In Chiapas Pope Francis will make reference to the Church mediator and Defender of

the Indians, Bartolome de las Casas (1484-1566) and Samuel Ruiz (1924 -2011). He will visit Morelia, the capital of the province Michoacán which is a center for drugs and a place where many kidnappings and shoot outs have taken place in the past. He will end his visit in the city Ciudad Juarez in the North, where he will talk among others about the subject of migration.

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