Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.Reuters / RIA Novosti
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis have agreed upon the text of their joint declaration, which they will sign at their historic meeting in Havana on Feb. 12.
"The text of the declaration was negotiated by the sides until late last night. The final amendments were introduced. It is necessary to hope now that the document in its agreed-upon version will be submitted to the meeting of the patriarch and the pope," Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Synodal Department of External Church Relations, told reporters at the Vnukovo airport on Feb. 11, before accompanying Patriarch Kirill on his flight to Cuba.
Changes may be introduced into the text of this document in the course of the meeting itself, he said, declining, however, to disclose its contents.
Cuban Ambassador to Moscow, Emilio Lozada, and his wife attended the see-off ceremony at the airport.
"I am convinced that this historic meeting will help make relations between the churches stronger," the ambassador said, addressing the patriarch.
Patriarch Kirill is being accompanied by some 100 people on his trip, including a clergy choir, Metropolitan Hilarion, Metropolitan Antony of Boryspil, head of administrative affairs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and Bishop Antony of Bogorodsk, administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate's Administration for Institutions Abroad.
Patriarch Kirill is expected to arrive in Cuba on Feb. 11 evening, thus launching his Latin American tour.
It will be the first meeting in history between the Moscow patriarch and the pope. This issue has been on the agenda of relations between the two churches for almost 20 years. Pope Francis said, a few days ago, that the upcoming meeting has been prepared in secrecy for two years.
The persecution of Christians will dominate the agenda for the meeting, which is expected to continue for approximately three hours. In light of the situation in the Middle East and Africa, the two churches have decided to put aside their existing disagreements, and unite their efforts in order to save the Christians from genocide. The patriarch and the pope are also expected to discuss the abandonment of Christian values, which can be observed in Europe today. A joint declaration is expected to be signed after the meeting.
The former first secretary of the Vatican's Embassy in Moscow, priest from Lithuania, Visvaldas Kulbokas, is expected to act as an interpreter during the meeting.
The fact that Patriarch Kirill heads the largest one of the 15 local Orthodox churches will add a special meaning to this historic event, which will be a meeting between the two most prominent leaders of the Christian world. It is also important that this meeting will be held amid existing sanctions with regard to Russia, the Russian operation in Syria, as well as ahead of a Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete in June.
A coincidence in the dates of the patriarch's visit to Latin American countries and the pope's visit to Mexico has made it possible to hold such a meeting in the New World.
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