Pope Heads to Cuba for Historic ‘Personal Conversation’

VOA News

Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, has embarked on a trip that will take him to Mexico, with a stop in Cuba for a historic meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.

Kirill is in Cuba for a state visit. The Holy See announced last week that Pope Francis will make a stop at Havana’s José Martí International airport to have a «personal conversation» with the patriarch and sign a joint declaration. Details of the declaration have not been made public.

The Friday meeting is the first of its kind; an effort to heal the 1,000-year-old schism that has divided Christianity between East and West.

The split between the two churches since 1054 has festered over issues such as the primacy of the pope and accusations by the Russian Orthodox church that the Catholic Church is trying to poach converts in Russia.

However, the persecution of Christians — Catholic and Orthodox — in the Middle East and Africa has helped bring the two churches closer.

A meeting between Francis and Kirill has been in the works for some time after the pope told the patriarch in November 2014, «I’ll go wherever you want. You call me and I’ll go.”