Before arriving in Mexico, Pope Francis will stop in Cuba and meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
In a unexpected briefing in the Holy See Press Office this morning, the director of the press office, Father Federico Lombardi, announced this event.
“The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next,” the communique began.
“Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.”
Fr. Lombardi told the press that this statement will be made available and published in various languages.
The Vatican spokesman noted that this meeting of the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been being prepared for a long time, “will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches.”
“The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate,” he stressed, “hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.”
Fr. Lombardi underscored that this visit will cause the papal flight to depart at 7:45 am Rome time, rather than around noon, but that nothing regarding the program in Mexico will change.
He also stressed how this encounter has been wished for at least a few years, on both the side of the Pope and the Patriarch.
The Vatican spokesman also noted that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was informed about this encounter and “expressed his joy and satisfaction about this step ahead.”
Father Lombardi reminded the press that the Orthodox Church belonging to the Patriarchate of Moscow makes up about two-thirds of all the world’s Orthodox Christians.