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Pope Francis, Orthodox leader Kirill urge Christian unity in Middle East

The two Christian leaders met in Havana to heal a 1,000 year-old rift that helped shape modern Europe and the Middle East
Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met in Havana, Cuba (AFP)

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill called during a historic meeting on Friday for restored Christian unity and urgent action to help Christians threatened by violence in the Middle East.

"We call on the international community to take urgent action to prevent Christians from continuing to be driven out of the Middle East," they said in a joint declaration.

"In Syria and Iraq, violence has already cost thousands of lives, leaving millions of people homeless and without resources."

"Conscious of the numerous obstacles that remain to be overcome, we hope our meeting contributes to the re-establishment of this unity wished for by God," they added.

The 79-year-old Francis, in white robes and a skullcap, and Kirill, 69, in black robes and a white headdress, earlier kissed and embraced before sitting down smiling for the historic meeting at Havana airport.

The Argentine pontiff was looking to heal a nearly 1,000-year-old rift in Christianity that dates back to a 1054 schism that helped shape modern Europe and the Middle East.

Francis is now due to embark on a tour of Mexico, while Kirill continues a visit to Cuba, Brazil and Paraguay.

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