HAVANA – Cuban President Raul Castro received Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Friday at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution before Pope Francis arrival for the first meeting of the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in nearly 1,000 years.
Before the meeting with Castro, the patriarch paid homage to the hero of Cuban independence, Jose Marti, with a floral tribute at his monument in the Plaza de la Revolucion.
The Orthodox leader also visited the memorial chambers dedicated to the Cuban leader and left a message in the visitors’ book.
The unprecedented meeting of Kirill and Pope Francis is expected to last about two hours and will take place during the pontiff’s brief stopover on his first trip as pope to Mexico.
On his fourth visit to Cuba as the maximum leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill will visit Saturday a school for children with special needs, as well as the Memorial of the Soviet Internationalist Soldier outside the capital, and will attend a concert at the Marti Theater.
The Russian patriarch will also be decorated with the Order of Jose Marti, the highest honor awarded by the Cuban government.
Though not on the religious leader’s official itinerary, the Russian patriarch is also expected to meet with Cuba’s ex-President Fidel Castro, 89, who left power in 2006.
Kirill’s official visit will extend until Sunday, the day he will officiate a liturgy at Our Lady of Kazan Orthodox Cathedral, the only Russian Orthodox church on Cuban soil, which has a congregation of some 15,000.
Kirill traveled to Cuba in 2009 for the dedication ceremony of that cathedral.