Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill: Catholic and Orthodox Church leaders meet for first time in 1,000 years

It was the first meeting between the heads of the two churches since the East-West Schism of 1054

Pope Francis has touched down in Cuba for a historic meeting with his Russian Orthodox counterpart, Patriarch Kirill, in the first ever encounter between the heads of the two biggest Christian Churches.

“We are brothers,” the pontiff said as he embraced Kirill in Cuba’s Havana airport, where the three-hour encounter took place. 

“Now things are easier,” Kirill agreed as the pair exchanged three kisses on the cheek.

Patriarch Kirill had earlier told the Cuban President, Raul Castro, that he “placed great hope in the meeting with Pope Francis”.

It was the first meeting between the heads of the two churches since the East-West Schism of 1054 which saw the Catholic and Eastern orthodox branches of Christianity mutually excommunicate each other, following an entrenched row over the extent of the Pope’s authority.

Relations between Patriarch Kirill and the Holy See have worsened in recent years because of the conflict in Ukraine. The Orthodox Church has accused Catholics there of evangelism and of fomenting Ukrainian nationalism.

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Pope Francis is then due to fly Mexico for a week-long tour.

But after their scheduled two-hour meeting at Havana airport, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are expected to make a joint declaration that focuses on a key issue of shared concern between the Catholic and Orthodox churches today: the plight of Christians across the Middle East.

Pope Francis is then due to fly Mexico for a week-long tour, during which he will address the issue of the drug-fuelled violence that has ripped apart Mexican society. 

On the eve of Francis’s departure for Havana, Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said the Pope would use his time in Mexico “to denounce narcotrafficking, violence, and crime”.

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