Pope Francis will meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba next week in a historic first meeting between the heads of the two largest Christian churches, the Vatican announced Friday.
The meeting will be the first of its kind since a schism in the 11th Century split what was then the only Christian Church into Western and Eastern branches.
It will take place in Havana on February 12 with the pope stopping over on his way to a previously scheduled visit to Mexico and Kirill due on the communist island for an official visit.
A meeting between the two leaders has been on the cards for some time with Francis having said in 2014 that he was willing to meet Kirill “wherever you want, you call me and I’ll come.”
Relations between the two churches have been frosty for centuries because of the legacy of the Great Schism of 1054 and the recriminations, including mutual excommunications, that followed.
The Orthodox Church’s refusal to accept the primacy of the Roman pontiff has long been the primary barrier to a rapprochement but more recently relations have been strained by the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine.
The Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church has accused Catholics in Ukraine who use Eastern forms of worship but are loyal to Rome of both evangelism and fomenting Ukrainian nationalism.
Since becoming Pope in 2013, Francis has made better relations between Roman Catholicism and other organised religions a priority.
Last month he announced plans to visit Sweden in October for a ecumenical service to mark next year’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation in Europe.