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Pope, Russian Patriarch Hold Historic Meeting In Cuba


Pope Francis (right) meets with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in Havana on February 12 -- the first such meeting in almost 1,000 years.

Pope Francis was holding a historic meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in Cuba on February 12, the first meeting between the heads of the two churches in nearly a millennium.

The pope and Kirill embraced as they met in a private room at Havana airport on February 12.

"Finally!" Francis exclaimed as he embraced Kirill in the airport’s small VIP room, where the planned three-hour meeting was being held. "We are brothers."

The two men kissed one another three times on the cheek, and Kirill told Francis through an interpreter: "Now things are easier."

It was the first meeting between the heads of the Catholic Church and what is now the largest church in Eastern Orthodoxy since the Christian world split in the Great Schism of 1054.

The two are expected to unite in an appeal for an end to the persecution and killing of Christians in the Middle East.

The Orthodox Church's refusal to accept the pope as the head of Christianity is the main reason for the historically poor relations between the two churches.

Relations have suffered more recently over the conflict in Ukraine, as the patriarch has been a fervent backer of Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies.

Francis, who became pope in 2013, said in an interview this week: "I just wanted to embrace my Orthodox brothers."

He also framed the meeting as a chance to engage Russia, which he said could serve as a key partner to promote peace in the world.

The meeting comes at a time when Russia has faced scathing criticism of its military actions abroad, from the takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 to what critics say is an indiscriminate bombing campaign that has killed large numbers of Syrian civilians.

Kirill, who was greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro, 84, upon his arrival on February 11, was on an 11-day trip to Latin America that will also take him to Brazil and Paraguay.

The 79-year-old Francis was also met by Castro when he stepped onto the tarmac on February 12.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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