Pope Francis enroute to Cuba for meeting with Orthodox Patriarch Kirill

By Dmitry Rashnitsov  |  Feb. 12, 2016 at 1:36 PM
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HAVANA, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Pope Francis left the Vatican on Friday morning for his first trip to Mexico, en route to which he will stop in Cuba to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Krill.

The heads of the two churches have not met face-to-face since before the event known as the Great Schism, which occurred more than 1,000 years ago. Francis had previously met with the patriarch of Constantinople in 2014.

Cuban President Raul Castro is expected to greet both men at the airport and facilitate the beginning of what could potentially solve one of the greatest rifts in the history of organized religion. Francis and Kirill will then sit down to a private conversation, and the sign 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."

"Airport is selected, because it is a neutral zone, neutral territory. It was selected the correct location, so that no one could say that this meeting by, is being used for political purposes." said Alexander Volkov, press secretary of the Patriarch.

Pope Francis was involved with helping lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba in 2014.

The meeting between the two powerful men is part of a larger movement within Christianity to move past some of the larger disagreements. Since 2003, there have been seven meetings of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

After his stopover in Cuba, Francis heads over to Mexico for whirlwind tour across the country, including a brief crossover to the US for a large Sunday Mass in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

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