Russian Patriarch Kirill flies to Cuba for historic meeting with Pope Francis

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has started his journey to Latin America for a historic meeting with the Pontiff to discuss the persecution of Christians in conflict zones, in particular in the Middle East.

The unprecedented meeting, which will take place at Havana's international airport, is expected to last as long as is necessary to agree on a joint declaration.

“The intersection of the routes allowed this meeting to be organized,” Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Foreign Relations Department, said ahead of the trip.

It took Moscow and the Vatican some 20 years to agree on a neutral country suitable for such a meeting. Austria and Hungary were among those considered, but Cuba was eventually chosen.

The meeting between the heads of the two major Christian churches will be an unprecedented move to mend a millennium-long rift precipitated by the Great Schism of 1054.