Russian Orthodox Patriarch En Route to Cuba for Historic Meeting

VOA News

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has left Moscow on a trip to Cuba in which he will both make a state visit to the Cuban President, Raul Castro, and hold a historic meeting with the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis.

Kirill left Moscow on Thursday, ahead of Friday’s meeting at Havana’s José  Martí International airport with Pope Francis.

The 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 pope and Patriarch Kirill plan to hold a «personal conversation» that will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration. Details of the declaration have not been made public.

The patriarch will be on an official trip to Cuba and the pope will make the brief stop enroute to Mexico, the churches said in a joint statement.

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 cards 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.»