The heads of the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox churches haven’t spoken since the Great Schism of 1054 shattered Christendom, so they had a lot of catching up to do when they sat down for their historic meeting Friday afternoon in Cuba.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill embraced and kissed one another three times on the cheek as they met in the wood-paneled VIP room at Havana’s José Martí International Airport. The two church leaders then proceeded to a pair of straight-backed chairs turned at angles.
After another round of handshakes for the cameras and greetings with members of their entourages, the two men sat and began talking. Clasping their hands in their laps, both occasionally gestured and nodded as they spoke. They held a two-hour “personal conversation” and then signed a 30-point statement, where the two leaders declared themselves ready to take all necessary measures to overcome their historical differences, saying “we are not competitors, but brothers.”
Francis and Kirill also called for political leaders to act on the single most important issue of shared concern between the Catholic and Orthodox churches today: the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria who are being killed and driven from their homes by the Islamic State group.
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