Russian Patriarch leaves for Cuba to meet Pope
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill left on Thursday for Cuba where he will hold a historic first meeting with Pope Francis after centuries of estrangement between the two Christian churches.
The meeting, set to take place on Friday in Havana, will be the first of its kind since an 11th-century schism split Christianity into Western and Eastern branches.
Russian state television broadcast footage of Kirill walking down a red carpet to board a government plane at Moscow's Vnukovo airport under the watchful eye of senior Orthodox clerics.
"This will be a long and difficult journey," Kirill said of his 11-day trip that will also take him to Paraguay and Brazil.
"It requires spiritual and physical strength."
A meeting between the two religious leaders has been on the cards for some time, with Francis saying in 2014 he was willing to meet Kirill "wherever you want. You call me and I'll come."
Relations between the two churches have been frosty for centuries because of the legacy of the Great Schism of 1054 and the recriminations, including mutual excommunications, that followed.
The Orthodox Church's refusal to accept the primacy of the Roman pontiff has long been the primary barrier to a rapprochement but more recently relations have been strained by the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine.
© 2016 AFP