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Pope heads for historic encounter with Russian patriarch

By AFP

Added 12th February 2016 10:15 AM

The Argentinian pontiff is due to spend around two hours in private conversation with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at Havana's Jose Marti airport.

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Pope Francis

The Argentinian pontiff is due to spend around two hours in private conversation with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at Havana's Jose Marti airport.



Pope Francis heads to Cuba on Friday looking to heal a 1,000-year-old rift in Christianity before embarking on a tour of Mexico dominated by modern day problems of drug-related violence and migration.

The Argentinian pontiff is due to spend around two hours in private conversation with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at Havana's Jose Marti airport.

 

 uban president aul astro  bottom welcomes atriarch of oscow and ll ussia and rimate of the ussian rthodox hurch irill  upon his arrival at ose arti nternational airport in avana on ebruary 11 2016 ussian atriarch irill arrives in uba for an official visit during which he will meet with ope rancis a dialogue that seeks rapprochement between the two churches         Cuban president Raul Castro (L, bottom) welcomes Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill (R), upon his arrival at Jose Marti International airport in Havana, on February 11, 2016. Russian Patriarch Kirill arrives in Cuba for an official visit during which he will meet with Pope Francis, a dialogue that seeks rapprochement between the two churches. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE

 

It will be the first meeting between the leaders of Christianity's two biggest churches since a 1054 schism that helped to shape modern Europe and the Middle East.

Francis and Kirill are due to sign a joint declaration on the contemporary persecution of Christians in places such as Iraq and Syria.

 

atriarch of oscow and ll ussia and rimate of the ussian rthodox hurch irill delivers a speech upon his arrival at ose arti nternational airport in avana on ebruary 11 2016 ussian atriarch irill arrives in uba for an official visit during which he will meet with ope rancis a dialogue that seeks rapprochement between the two churches         Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, delivers a speech upon his arrival at Jose Marti International airport in Havana, on February 11, 2016. Russian Patriarch Kirill arrives in Cuba for an official visit during which he will meet with Pope Francis, a dialogue that seeks rapprochement between the two churches. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE

 

The meeting on neutral ground has been decades in the planning, with the final obstacles finally swept away by a combination of the pope's determination that it should happen and the Russian church's feeling that events in the Middle East have made Christian unity much more urgent.

The rapprochement with the Orthodox wing of Christianity is in line with Francis's drive to make the Vatican a more active player in international diplomacy.

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