Pope Francis To Meet With Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch

“I’ll go wherever you want."

After nearly 1,000 years without a joint assembly between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, officials announced that Pope Francis will meet with Patriarch Kirill I in Cuba next Friday. This encounter also marks the first-ever meeting between a pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch.

"This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches," said a joint press release in The Washington Post.

The Catholic Church formally split with Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054 in an event known as the Great Schism. Former popes have met with patriarchs from other Orthodox churches, but never the Russian Orthodox Church, which comprises 165 million of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.

"The encounter has been under preparation for a long time — it wasn't improvised," Father Lombardi told The New York Times. He added that the discussions occurred for "at least two years" until they agreed on the neutral site of Cuba.

"I'll go wherever you want. You call me and I'll go," Francis told Kirill, according to USA Today. The pope was already planning to travel to Latin America in February, so that location fits his schedule perfectly.

The meeting will occur at Cuba's José Martí International Airport. Francis and Kirill are expected to sign a joint declaration. In addition, a joint statement said that both of them will engage in a "personal conversation."

Metropolitan Illarion, foreign policy chief of the Russian Orthodox Church, told USA Today on Friday that the treatment of Christians by extremists in the Middle East requires "immediate action" and could be part of the discussions.

"The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will," a statement from the Russian Orthodox Church said. "They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits."

Cover image via  Franco Origlia / Getty Images.