VATICAN CITY, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill will meet in Cuba next week, the first time leaders of their respective churches have met since a schism in 1054.
The pope is expected to arrive in Havana on Feb. 12, while traveling to Mexico. Patriarch Kirill will visit Cuba, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay from Feb. 11 to Feb. 22. The meeting of the Roman Catholic prelate and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia will be the first since the separation of the churches, known as the Great Schism, some 1,000 years ago.
It is planned that the Pope will be greeted a Havana's airport by Cuban President Raul Castro and Patriarch Kirill before Francis and Kirill sit down to a private conversation, and the signing of a joint declaration. A joint statement from the Holy See and the Patriarch of Moscow said the meeting will "mark an important stage in relations between the two churches."
The Vatican has sought to improve relations with other Christian churches since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, and relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of Orthodox churches, has become a priority. Orthodox priests have accused Catholics of attempting to convert their parishioners through churches with similar liturgies but loyalty to the Vatican. A planned trip to Moscow by Pope John Paul II was discouraged by Orthodox leaders and never occurred.