The Catholic Church is the oldest institution in the western world, and with more than one billion members worldwide, it is the largest Christian church. Its history spans almost 2,000 years and is rooted in the Church's Canon of Scripture and Tradition. At the head of the church is the Pope, who Catholics believe is the successor to Saint Peter whom Christ appointed as the first head of His church. The Pope, according to the religion's doctrine, can speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals. The Catholic Church practises closed communion and only baptised members of the church are permitted to receive the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
Pope Francis tells Scots and Catalans to think carefully about breaking away
Reuters in Vatican City
Pope Francis has suggested that Scotland and Catalonia think carefully about breaking away from national unions, making a distinction between seeking independence in the pursuit of freedom against secession.
In an interview published in Spain's La Vanguardia newspaper as Scots prepare to vote on whether to split from Britain and Catalonia's leader tries to organise a similar referendum, the pope said independence had to be treated with great care.
"Obviously, there are peoples with such different cultures that you can't stick them together with glue," the pontiff told the Catalonia paper, mentioning Yugoslavia, which was torn apart by war in the 1990s.
He distinguished between "independence for emancipation", as in the cases of countries in the Americas which wanted to be free of the control of European states, and "independence for secession".
Asked whether he was concerned about conflict in Catalonia, Francis said all division concerned him. He mentioned Scotland and also Padania, an area of northern Italy the right-wing Northern League wants to make independent from the rest of the country.
Anne McGuire, a member of Britain's Labour Party, welcomed the pope's comments and said, "the best way to secure our future is to work together as part of something bigger".
Britain's big parties are campaigning for a "no" vote on September 18, but support for the Scottish move rose last month, a poll on Thursday found.
Catalan president Artur Mas is forging ahead with plans for a November 9 vote on independence for the region, which the central government vows to block on constitutional grounds.