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Francis and Kirill Meet: Here's the Moment the World Has Been Waiting For

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Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis meet for the first time, accompanied by interpreters

John Burger - published on 02/12/16

WATCH: The HUG heard 'round the world!

Pope Francis landed at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport this afternoon and was greeted by Cuban president Raul Castro before being escorted into the airport building for the long-anticipated encounter with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I. Here is a Vatican video of the initial greeting.

The private encounter is expected to last about two hours, after which the two Church leaders will sign a joint declaration.

Almost 60 years after a major, new ecumenical push under Pope John XXIII, highlighted by meetings between the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople and almost every bishop of Rome since Paul VI, the leader of what is often referred to as the “Third Rome,” Moscow, met the leader of the First Rome in the most unexpected of places.

But Francis made it clear last year that he would go anywhere to meet with the patriarch of Moscow when he told a reporter that all Kirill would need to do is call, and he would go.

As it turned out, Kirill was beginning a pastoral visit of Orthodox communities in Cuba and other Latin American countries as Pope Francis was traveling to make his first papal visit to Mexico.

The meeting has given new meaning to words the pope spoke on his first visit to this island nation last year: “Geographically, Cuba is an archipelago, facing all directions, with an extraordinary value as a ‘key’ between north and south, east and west. Its natural vocation is to be a point of encounter for all people to join in friendship.”

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