Photos: REUTERS/MAX ROSSI
Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill embraced and kissed on Friday in a historic meeting nearly 1,000 years after the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity split apart, Reuters reports.
“Finally,” Francis said as he and Kirill entered through doors on opposite sides of a room at Havana airport to begin private talks. “We are brothers.”
The two religious leaders, guests of a Communist government, are addressing ways of healing the rift between their Churches as well as their concerns over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
They were expected to speak about territorial disputes between the two Churches after the fall of the Soviet Union, and issue a joint declaration following the meeting.
Francis, dressed in white with a skullcap, and Kirill, wearing a tall, domed hat that dangled a white stole over black robes, joined arms and kissed on both cheeks.
“It is very clear that this is the will of God,” Francis said.
“Yes, things are much easier now,” Kirill said. Both men spoke through interpreters and were accompanied by their top aides in the quest for Christian unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch and Russian Metropolitan Hilarion.
Their meeting, announced just a week ago, also carried political overtones, coming at a time of Russian disagreements with the West over Syria and Ukraine.
Cuban President Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Catholic Church’s highest representative in Cuba, greeted the pope as he got off the plane.