Pope Francis to meet head of Russian Orthodox Church in historic meeting

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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JANUARY 30: Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for his Jubilee audience on January 30, 2016 in Vatican City, Vatican. Today, the pontiff held the first monthly Jubilee audience in his Year of Mercy, during which he about the close relationship between mercy and mission. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

LONDON — Pope Francis will meet the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kyril, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, announced Friday.

It will be the first meeting between the heads of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches in history, since the split between Eastern and Western Christianity nearly 1,000 years ago.

Lombardi called the meeting “beautiful news.”

The meeting between Francis and Patriarch Kyril will take place on February 12 in Cuba, as the Pope heads for Mexico, Lombardi said Friday.

The Russian patriarch was set to visit Cuba this year, according to Russia’s state-run Tass news agency.

A joint news release from the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow said they will have a “personal conversation” at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana and will conclude their meeting by signing a “joint declaration.”

It’s yet another foray into diplomacy and global affairs for the Pope.

Francis used his papal encyclical last year to issue a sweeping critique of economic injustice and environmental exploitation.

He also played a key role in the recent thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba.