Pope Francis will meet the head of the Russian Orthodox Church for the first time next week in Havana, both churches announced. The historic meeting is an attempt to heal the 1,000-year-old rift in Christianity.
Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill on February 12 at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, a statement from the Vatican said. The meeting “will include a personal conversation … and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration,” the statement added. Francis will stop in Havana en route to Mexico, and Kirill will be on an official visit to Cuba at the time.
The statement added:
This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and 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 good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.
The churches split in 1054 amid disagreements over theology and became two separate faith traditions: Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Next week’s meeting would go a long way toward healing what is known as the Great Schism.