Pope Francis is due to land in Cuba, where he will hold an historic meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, on 12 February. The encounter will be the first ever between the leaders of the two Christian branches since they split some 1,000 years ago.
The pontiff is scheduled to arrive at the José Martí International Airport of Havana at 2pm local time. There he will be met by his Russian counterpart and Cuban leader Raul Castro, an atheist. Francis and Kirill will then hold a private meeting at the end of which they will sing a joint declaration aimed at mending 1,000-year-old divisions between the two churches.
You can watch a live stream of the event here:
The Orthodox Church broke away from Rome's leadership over theological disputes during the so-called East-West Schism, also known as the Great Schism, starting in the 11th century. Popes have since renewed ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in modern-day Istanbul, that is considered the "first among equals" within the 15 self-governing Churches serving a 250-million strong flock.
The Vatican and the Russian Church, the largest in Orthodoxy, have however remained estranged. The fresh bridge-building effort comes as both churches have expressed concerns over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
Observers said Kirill might also be interested in using the Cuba meeting to gain leverage within Orthodoxy ahead of a pan-Orthodox synod in June. After the summit Francis will return to his plane and take off for Mexico.
Below is the summit's time schedule. All times local.
Friday, 12 February 2016
|7:45||Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport for Havana (Cuba)|
|14:00||Arrival at "José Martí" International Airport of Havana|
|14:15||Private meeting with H.H. Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia|
|16:30||Signing of the Joint Declaration|
|17:10||Farewell between His Holiness Kirill and the Holy Father|
|17:30||Departure from the International Airport of Havana for Mexico City|
|19:30||Arrival at the "Benito Juárez" International Airport of Mexico City|