VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) –  On Friday the Vatican announced that while on his way to Mexico, Pope Francis will stop in Cuba to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in the first meeting between a Pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism 1,000 years ago.

“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,” a joint Feb. 5 press release from the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church read.

Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, will arrive to Havana Feb. 11 for an official visit to South America. His Feb. 11-22 visit includes stops in Cuba, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.

Pope Francis himself will arrive to Havana’s José Martí International Airport the next day while on his way to Mexico, where he will be on an official visit until Feb. 17.

The Pope will be greeted by both the Patriarch and Cuban president Raul Castro at the airport. From there, they will head to the presidential room of the airport, where Francis and Kirill will have a lengthy private conversation and sign a joint declaration.

In the press release, it was noted that the encounter is the fruit of “a long preparation,” and will be “the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches.”

While Roman Pontiffs have met with other Orthodox Church leaders, this marks the first time a Pope has met with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch since the Eastern Churches split with Rome during the Great Schism of 1054.

Both the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate expressed their hope that the meeting “will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will,” and invited all Christians “to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.”

In a Feb. 5 press briefing on the encounter, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. told journalists that when Pope Francis arrives to Havana, he will be greeted with the usual protocol.

Among those present to greet the Pope when he lands will be Cuban president Raul Castro, Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as the president of the Cuban bishops conference, Archbishop Dionisio García Ibáñez of Santiago de Cuba.

The private meeting between the two is expected to last “a couple of hours,” Fr. Lombardi said, noting that the time allotted for the encounter lasts from around 2:15-4:25p.m. Afterward, they will head to a separate room to sign a joint-declaration and exchange gifts.

Two interpreters will assist in the conversation: one in Spanish, and one in Russian. The declaration, however, will be drafted in Russian and Italian.

Once the joint-declaration has been signed and the gifts exchanged, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will each give short speech. The Pope will give his speech in Spanish, and the patriarch in Russian.

According to the Vatican spokesman, the speeches will not be long and complicated, but more like a “spontaneous expression of their feelings for this beautiful occasion.”

Delegations from both the Pope and the patriarch, consisting of roughly 10-15 people each, will be presented before Francis boards the plane again around 5:30p.m., bound for Mexico. Both Patriarch Kirill and Cuban President Raul Castro will see him off.

Fr. Lombardi said that while the stop in Havana has been added, Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico has otherwise not been modified, and he should stay on schedule.

Also present for the encounter in Cuba will be Hilarion Alfeyev, who currently serves as Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, is the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and is a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera in June 2015, Metropolitan Hilarion hinted that a possible meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Kirill could be close. He told the agency that “such a meeting is getting closer every day, but it must be well prepared.”

Fr. Lombardi confirmed that meeting between the two was “not improvised,” but has in fact been in the works “for a long time…a couple of years.”

– Elise Harris

In 1986, St. John Paul II gave us a mission. A mission to build the Catholic Church in East Texas, to develop the Diocese of Tyler. A mission to give all of God’s flock a shepherd’s care.

Many said it couldn’t be done, but today that mission is alive. And one of the greatest resources we have to continue it is the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

Your contributions to the Appeal are vital to the growth of our Church.

Each year your gifts fund the many youth, family, and charitable ministries that make sure all of God’s Flock receive a shepherd’s care in East Texas.

Your support to the Appeal forms our priests, chosen by God to shepherd our families. Through your generosity, we are able to vastly grow our number of seminarians, providing future shepherds for all our parishes and missions.

Most of all, your gifts provide for the men who have given us a lifetime of service, our retired priests. You make sure they have the love and care that they need in their old age.

The 2016 Annual Appeal will kick off this weekend, February 6th and 7th. Check your mailbox this coming weekend for an invitation to give.

God’s flock is in your midst. Join Our Mission and help give them a shepherd’s care.

The Diocese of Tyler is seeking applicants for the full-time position of Staff Accountant, Laura Williams, director of finance, has announced.

A bachelor’s  degree in accounting or related business area and three to five years of experience is required. Candidates must be familiar with processing and recording receipts and payables, and have experience with timekeeping, payroll preparation, payroll tax returns, and IRS requirements. Duties will include preparation of financial reports and statements and general ledger reconciliation. Applicants should also be familiar with internal controls and monitoring cash flow.

Excellent data entry and organizational skills are needed as well as the ability to deal with the public and be detailed oriented.  The successful candidate must be a self-starter, service oriented, and able to meet multiple deadlines.

For consideration, please send cover letter and resume along with confidential salary history and requirement to:

Staff Accountant Position
Attn: Diocese of Tyler
Human Resources Department
1015 ESE Loop 323
Tyler, TX 75701

GARLAND – Bishop Douglas Deshotel, auxiliary bishop of Dallas, will celebrate Mass of Christian Burial for Father John Fowler Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 10 a.m. in Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Garland.

Father Fowler, 89, died Jan. 22. He had served in Marshall and Tyler.

He was pastor of St. Joseph Church in Marshall from 1964-1967 and pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Tyler from 1968-1973. Under his tenure, Tyler Catholic High School was renamed Bishop T.K. Gorman Catholic High School for the former bishop of Dallas.

John William Fowler was born Dec. 17, 1926, in Dallas to John and Maria Redmond Fowler. He attended Sacred Heart Catholic School and North Dallas High School.

After serving in the army during World War II, he entered St. John Seminary in San Antonio and was ordained by Bishop Thomas Gorman at Sacred Heart Cathedral on May 30, 1953.

Father Fowler served in many parishes during his priestly ministry. He served as a parochial vicar at Christ the King, Dallas; St. Alice and St. George in Fort Worth; Sacred Heart in Texarkana; and St. Luke in Irving. He was pastor at St. Joseph in Marshall; Holy Name in Fort Worth; Immaculate Conception in Tyler, Immaculate Conception in Corsicana; St. Mary in Sherman, and St. Michael in Grand Prairie. He retired from active ministry in 1997 and continued to help out for many years on a part-time basis in several parishes in the Dallas area.

Surviving is a sister, Catherine Savage, and several nieces and nephews.

Interment will be in the Priests Circle in Calvary Hill Cemetery in Dallas.

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – In his 2016 Lenten message, Pope Francis called the faithful to place special emphasis on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy this Lent, taking into account the current Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn,” the Pope wrote in the short document, released Tuesday by the Vatican.

The spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the pontiff said, “remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them.”

“On such things will we be judged,” he said.

The title of this year’s message was drawn from the Gospel of Matthew: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” and has the subtitle: “The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.”

In the message, signed the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4 2015, the Pope said those who are truly poor are the ones who believe themselves to be rich.

“This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars,” he said.

“The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow,” he said.

Pope Francis recounted the parable of the poor man Lazarus who would beg at the door of the rich man.

Lazarus represents Christ, the Pope said, and therefore “the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see.”

This blindness “is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence,” he observed.

Such an illusion can take “social and political forms,” he explained, citing as examples the “totalitarian systems of the twentieth century.”

In modern times, this illusion is seen in “the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited.”

The Pope went on to explain how the illusion can link back to the “idolatry of money,” leading to a lack of concern for the poor “on the part of wealthier individuals and societies.”

“They close their doors, refusing even to see the poor,” he said.

“For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy.”

Pope Francis stressed that “the corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated.”

“By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need,” he said.

“This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches.”

The Pope warned against constantly refusing “to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor,” as such consistent refusal on the part on the part of the “proud, rich and powerful” leads to condemnation.

This year’s Lent will begin Feb 10 with Ash Wednesday, when the Church will send out “Missionaries of Mercy” – priests with the faculties to pardon sins in cases otherwise reserved for the Holy See – as part of the Jubilee Year.

In the opening section of the message, Pope Francis centered his reflection on Mary as the image of the Church’s evangelization, “because she is evangelized.”

The Pope began by reiterating the call for mercy to be celebrated and experienced in a particular way this Lent, citing the Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand,” he said.

After receiving the “Good News” from the angel Gabriel, Mary proclaims the Magnificat in which she “prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her,” the Pope recounts.

He describes Mary as the “perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful.”

Pope Francis then reflected on the history of mercy as seen in the covenant between God and the people of Israel.

“God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth,” he said.

“Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride.”

“This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son,” who the Father has made “mercy incarnate,” the Pope said, citing the Jubilee Bull of Induction.

“As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.”

Pope Francis reflected how it is through mercy that God restores his relationship with the sinner.

“In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.”

Pope Francis concluded the message by calling on Mary’s intercession during the upcoming Season of Lent.

“Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion!”

By Ann Schneible