It took nearly 1,000 years for Western and Eastern branches of Christianity to embrace each other. The meeting between Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis at a Cuban airport on Friday made history.

It was the first time a Russian Orthodox patriarch and a Roman Catholic Pope met each other. The historic encounter took place as the Christian leaders came together to call for the security of Christians under attack in the Middle East.

“In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated,” Reuters quoted the joint statement of the Christian leaders, issued at the José Martí International Airport.

“Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed.”

It was another moment of international attention for Cuban President Raul Castro. He has been successful in a number of efforts on the international platform recently. He managed to restore diplomatic relations with the United States.

Castro received the Pope in 2015. He met US President Barack Obama in Panama in April. The Cuban leader is initiating peace talks between leftist rebels in Colombia and its government. If successful, it will end a war going on for 50 years now.

According to the Pope, “Cuba will be the capital of unity,” if it continues to act in such manner.

The separation between the two branches of Christianity dates back to the Great Schism of 1054, according to the Miami Herald. The Russian Orthodox Church believes the Christian churches should come together and take urgent measures against extremist attacks on Christians in the Middle East and Africa.

“As we gather at a distance from the old quarrels of the Old World, we feel very strongly the need for collaboration between Catholics and the Orthodox, who must always be ready to answer everyone who asks for a reason for hope,” both the leaders said on Friday.

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