LONDON — It’s a meeting nearly a millennium in the making.
Pope Francis will meet the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kyril, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, announced Friday.
It will be the first meeting between the heads of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches in history, since the split between Eastern and Western Christianity nearly 1,000 years ago.
Lombardi called the meeting “beautiful news.” It will take place on February 12 in Cuba, as the Pope heads for Mexico, he said Friday.
The meeting will come less than a year after Francis’ first visit to Cuba as Pope. He played a key role in the recent thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba, which reestablished diplomatic ties last year.
The Russian patriarch was set to visit Cuba this year, according to Russia’s state-run Tass news agency.
The press for greater unity between the two sides of Christianity has been going on for more than 100 years, CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen said.
“This was the apple of John Paul’s eye, this was his dream,” Allen said, referring to Pope John Paul II. “He wanted to go to Moscow and meet the Patriarch of Moscow.”
A joint news release from the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow said Francis and Kyril will have a “personal conversation” at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana and will conclude their meeting by signing a “joint declaration.”
It’s yet another foray into diplomacy and global affairs for the Pope.
Francis used his papal encyclical last year to issue a sweeping critique of economic injustice and environmental exploitation.