By Nancy Caouette
MEXICO CITY (AA): Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church met Friday in an historic meeting after the two sides of Christendom split 1,000 year ago.
The meeting at Jose Marti International airport in La Habana, Cuba, between Pope Francis and and Patriarch Kirill represents a step toward alleviating the rift between Eastern and Western Christianity.
The two leaders sat down for a hours-long talk that is scheduled to end with signing of a joint accord calling for an end to religious persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
“The Holy See and Moscow Patriarchate want this meeting to be a sign of hope for all men of goodwill. We invite all Christians to pray for God to bless this meeting, to bear good fruits”, according to the Vatican.
Differences in theological interpretation finally caused a formal split between the Eastern and Western branches of the churches in the fifteenth century following tensions that began 400 years earlier.
The Eastern, or Orthodox Church, has about 225 million followers, with the Moscow Patriarch having about 160 million adherents – the largest of all of the Orthodoxy’s 15 congregations. By contrast, Catholics number 1.2 billion worldwide.
[Photo: Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill met Pope Francis in Cuba. Photographer: Serge Serebro, Vitebsk Popular News/Creative Commons]
The reunion between the Orthodox and Catholic wings is in accord with Francis’ desire to play a more active role in international affairs.
After his meeting Kirill, Francis will head to Mexico City where Saturday he will meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto before holding mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe – the most visited Catholic site in the world.
Francis’ visit will also take him to the states of Mexico, Chiapas, Michoacan and Chihuahua.