After years of speculation, for the first time in history the Successor of Peter and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet on February 12, the Vatican announced today.
The meeting will take place in Cuba where Patriarch Kirill will be making an official visit. Pope Francis will make a brief stop in Havana on his way to Mexico.
The Vatican said the historic meeting "will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches."
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the meeting, expected to last two hours in total, will consist of spontaneous speeches from the Pope and the Patriarch who will also issue a joint declaration. He added that the meeting, which was always to take place on neutral ground, is the fruit of two years of talks.
Here below is the full text of the press release:
Joint Press Release of the Holy See and of the Patriarchate of Moscow
The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next. Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.
This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Orthodox Church's "foreign minister", said that while disagreements remain between the two Churches, threats to Christian communities in the Middle East and northern and Central Africa require immediate action. "In this tragic situation, we need to put aside internal disagreements and pool efforts to save Christianity in the regions where it is subject to most severe persecution," he said.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has welcomed the news. Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said he did not expect the meeting "will bring about specific changes but it is good that the meeting is happening, and I am glad that, finally, the Russian Orthodox Church has come to understand that it is necessary to have the meeting." See more here.