A historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill -- head of the Russian Orthodox Church -- will take place in Cuba next week, following more than two years of secret talks aimed at healing ties broken nearly 1,000 years ago, the Religion News website reports today (February 5, 2016).
According to the surprise announcement -- made simultaneously today in Moscow and at the Vatican -- Francis will make a brief stopover in Havana on February 12 before continuing on to Mexico for a six-day visit.
Kirill will already be in Cuba on an official visit and will meet the pontiff for two hours at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport before signing a joint declaration with Francis. It will be the first time in history that the leader of the Catholic Church has met with a Russian Orthodox patriarch.
The Western and Eastern branches of Christianity split apart into the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church in what is referred to as the Great Schism of 1054. Today, there are about 1.2 billion Catholics and upwards of 250 million Orthodox Christians in the world.