Pope, Head Of The Russian Orthodox Church Meet For The First Time

Pope Francis (center) and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill (second from left) met Friday at the José Martí International airport in Havana, Cuba. (AP)
Pope Francis (center) and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill (second from left) met Friday at the José Martí International airport in Havana, Cuba. (AP)

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill came face to face Friday in Havana, Cuba — the first time the leaders of the two churches have met since a schism 1,000 years ago divided Christianity.

The religious leaders "embraced and kissed one another three times on the cheek as they met in a wood-paneled VIP room at the Havana airport," The Associated Press reports. The news service adds that Francis said, "Finally!" when he embraced Kirill, and "We are brothers." Through an interpreter, Kirill told the pope, "Now things are easier."

As we reported last week, the historic meeting is the result of an "intersection of the itineraries" as both leaders will be visiting Latin America next week, the Russian Orthodox Church says.

The meeting at Havana's José Martí International Airport comes just before Francis is scheduled to visit Mexico and meet with victims of drug violence and human trafficking in some of the country's poorest, most violent regions. Kirill is in Cuba to visit President Raul Castro.

The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate said in a joint statement that the meeting "will mark an important stage in relations between the two churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits."

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill stands beside honor guards after an offering to Cuban independence hero Jose Marti in Havana, Cuba on Friday.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill stands beside honor guards after an offering to Cuban independence hero Jose Marti in Havana, Cuba on Friday.

At the meeting, the leaders are expected to make statements and sign a joint declaration.

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