22:34 GMT16 January 2021
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    Meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia is highly important for Christians and all those believing in a culture of dialogue, Italian President Sergio Mattarella said Friday.

    ROME (Sputnik) Patriarch Kirill is expected to meet Pope Francis Friday at the airport in Cuba's Havana at around 19:15 GMT and hold a three-hour conversation to be followed by a joint statement.

    "Italy and all the international community with special attention will follow your historical meeting in Cuba with Patriarch Kirill. This event is of paramount importance for Christians and all those who believe in a culture of dialogue," the president said in a written message to the pontiff.

    The meeting is first occasion when a Roman Catholic Pope and an Orthodox Patriarch will meet since Christianity split into Western and Eastern branches in 1054. They are expected to focus on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, but also address other issues, including euthanasia, same sex marriage and abortion.


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