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First-ever meeting between Orthodox Patriarch and Catholic Pope held behind closed doors

The patriarch and the pope will speak their native languages (Russian and Spanish), with two interpreters helping them

HAVANA, February 12. /TASS/. The first-ever meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the Pope has begun at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.

The meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis is being held behind closed doors.

The patriarch and the pope will speak their native languages (Russian and Spanish), with two interpreters helping them. One of the interpreters will be Lithuanian priest Visvaldas Kulbokas. Kulbokas is in diplomatic service in the Vatican and he is known to have worked as an interpreter at the pontiff’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2015.

The signing of a joint declaration is scheduled for 16:30 local time (21:30 UTC), and it is to be followed by public statements by the two churches’ leaders.

Chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department of External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) said prior to the patriarch’s departure from Moscow to Havana that "the text of the declaration was being coordinated by the sides until late yesterday evening [February 10]."

"Now it is to be hoped that the document will be presented in the coordinated form at the meeting with the pope," the metropolitan said, noting that "the text of the declaration could however be changed."

The declaration will be distributed in four languages. The contents of the document are kept secret yet. Only the general topic of the meeting - persecutions of Christians in the Middle East and other regions - has been mentioned.

"The issue of persecutions of Christians will be central at the meeting," the metropolitan said.

He explained that the situation in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and some other regions, where extremists are involved in real genocide of Christian population, requires urgent measures and closer interaction between Christian churches.

"In the current tragic situation, it’s necessary to move aside internal disagreements and unite efforts to save Christianity in regions where it is persecuted in a cruel way," Metropolitan Hilarion said.

Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis are also expected to touch upon urgent issues of bilateral relations and international policy. They will discuss universal Christian and human values, the role of the Church in preserving the traditional institutions of family and marriage, the fight against such vices as drug addiction and alcohol abuse. The Russian Orthodox Church hopes the meeting will open a new page in relations between the two churches.

The previous Holy Christian Church broke up into two, the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, in 1054.

Earlier, both the Patriarch and the Pope said they pinned great hope for their meeting.