It will be the first meeting between the heads of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches
It will take place in Cuba on February 12
It’s a meeting nearly a millennium in the making.
Pope Francis will meet the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kyril, next Friday in Cuba, the Vatican announced Friday.
Delicately dancing around centuries of theological tensions, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met in Cuba on Friday and pleaded for world leaders to protect persecuted Christians.
Pope Francis has made concerted efforts to heal the breach, telling Patriarch Kyril in 2014 that “I’ll go wherever you want. You call me and I’ll go.”
Both sides apparently consider Cuba neutral ground. Kirill is there for an official visit; Francis flew to Mexico, where he will spend five days. He received an exuberant and festive welcome Friday evening.
A joint news release from the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow said Francis and Kyril will have a “personal conversation” at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana and will conclude their meeting by signing a joint declaration.
The meeting will come less than a year after Francis’ first visit to Cuba as Pope. He played a key role in the recent thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba, which reestablished diplomatic ties last year. The Russian patriarch had already planned to visit Cuba this year, according to Russia’s state-run Tass news agency.
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The press for greater unity between the two sides of Christianity has been going on for more than 100 years, CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen said.
“This was the apple of John Paul’s eye, this was his dream,” Allen said, referring to Pope John Paul II. “He wanted to go to Moscow and meet the Patriarch of Moscow.”
The ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa reportedly prompted the Russians to consider meeting with their Catholic counterparts.
“We need to put aside internal disagreements at this tragic time and join efforts to save Christians in the regions where they are subject to the most atrocious persecution,” senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion told reporters.
Pope Francis has also argued that Christians should come together to protect their persecuted brethren, calling it an “ecumenism of blood.”
CNN’s Daniel Burke contributed to this report.