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Pope, Head Of The Russian Orthodox Church Meet For The First Time

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill (left), kisses Pope Francis as they meet at José Martí International Airport in Havana on Friday.

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill came face to face Friday in Havana — the first time leaders of the two churches have met since a schism 1,000 years ago divided Christianity.

The religious leaders "embraced and kissed one another three times on the cheek as they met in a wood-paneled VIP room at the Havana airport," The Associated Press reports. The news service adds that Francis said, "Finally!" when he embraced Kirill, and "We are brothers." Through an interpreter, Kirill told the pope, "Now things are easier."

After the meeting, Francis and Kirill signed a joint declaration on religious unity that calls for an end to violent conflicts, notably in Syria and Iraq. One part of the 30-point declaration read:

"Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands."

As we reported last week, the historic meeting is the result of an "intersection of the itineraries," as both leaders will be visiting Latin America next week.

The meeting at José Martí International Airport came just before Francis is scheduled to visit Mexico and meet with victims of drug violence and human trafficking in some of the country's poorest, most violent regions. Kirill is in Cuba to visit President Raul Castro.

In a joint statement, The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate called the meeting 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 goodwill. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits."

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