Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox patriarch Kirill met in the presidential hall at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana and embraced, in what was the first meeting of the two churches’ leaders since the Great Schism of 1054.
“Finally,” the pope said when he met and embraced the Russian patriarch in the small chamber where the Vatican and Russian flags had been placed together with a crucifix.
Francis arrived from Rome and made a stopover on the Caribbean island to meet with Kirill, who is in Cuba on a Latin American visit.
“It has been a meeting much wished for, both by myself and by my brother Cyril,” the pope told reporters, EFE’s among them, who will be with him on his flight to Mexico City.
Seated on white chairs with their translators beside them, Francis and Kirill began speaking before the photographers and video cameras.
The pope was heard to tell Kirill that “it was obvious that (the meeting) was the will of God,” while the Russian patriarch was heard to respond with “now everything will be much easier.”
Then the journalists left the room and the private meeting began.
The subject of the meeting had already been announced by Metropolitan Hilarion of Moscow when he said “the current situation in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Africa and other regions where extremists are committing genocide against Christians demands urgent measures of cooperation between our churches.”
Cuban President Raul Castro had received the pope at the foot of the stairway down from the airliner that will later take him to Mexico.
Also present were Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and in charge of the dialogue with Catholics.