Pope Francis will stop in Cuba on his way to Mexico next week to hold an historic meeting with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Vatican said.
The unprecedented meeting next Friday (Reuters), the first between a pope and a Russian Orthodox Patriarch in history, will be a hugely significant step towards healing the 1000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, which split in the Great Schism of 1054.
Senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said that long-standing differences between the two churches remain, most notably a row over the status of the Uniate Church, in Ukraine.
But he said these differences were being put aside so the patriarch and the Pope could come together over persecution of Christians.
This issue will be the central item on the agenda for their meeting, in Havana, Cuba, the cleric said.