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Russian Orthodox Patriarch Arrives in Cuba for Historic Meeting

  • VOA News

Cuban President Raul Castro walks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 11, 2016.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has arrived in Cuba for a historic meeting with the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis.

The Friday meeting will be 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 Kirill plan to hold a "personal conversation" at Havana's José Martí International Airport that will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration. Details of the declaration have not been made public.

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.” The pope will be making the brief stop in Cuba en route to Mexico.

While in Cuba, Kirill will also make a state visit to the nation's president, Raul Castro.