Pope and Russian Patriarch to Have Historic Meeting in Cuba

  • Patriarch Kirill to meet Pope Francis Feb. 12, officials say
  • Middle East `genocide' of Christians in focus, Russia says

An historic first meeting between the pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church will take place in Cuba next week, officials in Moscow and the Vatican said.

Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis will hold talks on February 12 at Havana’s international airport and sign a joint declaration, according to a statement issued by the Orthodox Church in Moscow and the Vatican on Friday.

“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,” they said in the statement. “The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will.”

The meeting between the leader of the Roman Catholic faith and the head of the largest Orthodox denomination will be the first since the Great Schism of 1054 that split eastern and western Christianity over theological differences. While Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople first met after the schism in 1964 in Jerusalem, the head of the Russian Church has never previously met with the Roman pontiff because of doctrinal differences and arguments over the leadership of Ukrainian Christians.

Kirill and Francis will discuss the “real genocide of the Christian population” in parts of the world, including the Middle East and North and Central Africa, said Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s external affairs department.

It’s a “very important” meeting because a “genocide on religious grounds is going on,” though “a joint declaration is unlikely to change anything,” Andrei Zubov, a religious historian, said in Moscow by phone.

The talks will take place in Cuba because the patriarch will be on an official visit and the pope will make a stop there on his way to Mexico, according to the joint statement.

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