Cuba: Promoting unity in the church

“If it continues this way, Cuba will be the capital of unity,” Pope Francis said

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Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill look to Raul in appreciation

Nearly 1,000 years after the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity split apart, the meeting at an airport terminal in Cuba was the first ever between a Roman Catholic pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch.

“Finally!” Francis exclaimed as he embraced Kirill in the small, wood-paneled VIP room of Havana’s airport, where the three-hour encounter took place on Friday.

“We are brothers,” Francis added.

The Vatican is hoping the meeting will improve relations with other Orthodox churches and spur progress in dialogue over theological differences that have divided east from west ever since the Great Schism of 1054 split Christianity.

Raul in yet another historic moment

Cuban President Raul Castro stood to the side during the ceremony, in yet another historic moment having recently been a part of the renewing of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and meeting with US President Barack Obama in Panama in April – the first such meeting in over 50 years.

Cuba is also sponsoring peace talks between the Colombian government and leftist rebels seeking to end a 50-year war.

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“Now what’s left is Colombia,” Raul told reporters after the pope boarded his plane for Mexico, where Francis arrived on Friday evening for a five-day visit to some of the poorest and most violent corners of the country.

Cuba: The peace capital of the world

“If it continues this way, Cuba will be the capital of unity,” Pope Francis said.

Following the meeting, Francis and Kirill issued a joint declaration expressing their concern about the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria who are being killed and driven from their homes by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

In a joint appearance, Francis told reporters he was “grateful for the humility” of Kirill, while praising the Cuban president for hosting the talks.

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