Updated 11:39 AM EST, Sun, Dec 05, 2021

Pope Francis to Meet Russian Patriarch in Cuba to Settle Their Churches’ Century-Old Dispute

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Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill will hold a meeting in Cuba to settle a century-old dispute between their churches.

The historic meeting on Friday will be held in Havana's Jose Marti International Airport and will center entirely on religious reconciliation, according to the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News).

The Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox parted ways during the Great Schism of 1054 and have remained distant over a number of disagreements, which includes the primacy of the pope and the Russian Orthodox accusing the Catholic Church for poaching converts in former Soviet territories, the news outlet further reported.

"The intersection of the routes allowed this meeting to be organized," Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Foreign Relations Department, said ahead of the meeting, as quoted by RT.

The Vatican and Moscow spent about 20 years to settle on a neutral country suitable for the meeting, the news outlet added. Austria and Hungary were both up for consideration, but Cuba was ultimately picked.

The two churches' meeting will be the first ever between the religious leaders, the AP noted. It is expect to have a positive effect on Cuban President Raúl Castro as his country is thawing diplomatic relations with the United States. Advocates of the détente are speeding up the process to make it irreversible, especially now that there's only a year remaining in Barack Obama's presidency.

This is also a sign that Castro is shaping Cuba as a more neutral ground, a stark contrast from its previous controversial stance, the AP added.

According to Hilarion, the murder of Christians was another reason why a meeting was decided upon.

As quoted by the Catholic News Agency, he said that "the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches."

Hilarion continued that "in the present tragic situation, it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts to save Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution."

It is also expected that the two churches will discuss overcoming global immorality, as well as Russia's need for a foreign affairs boost as it faces diplomatic isolation, the CNA added.

Cuba offers a secure and mostly leak-proof, if undemocratic, location for sensitive meetings, the AP reported. The country boasts of heavy police activities and monitored single-party system, in which nothing pushes through unless an approval from the highest levels of government was issued.

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