Pope Francis leaves for Cuba, Mexico

Pope Francis departs for Cuba where he will meet Russian Patriarch Kirill before visiting Mexico

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane to Cuba for a historic meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill, at Fiumicino airport, near Rome, February 12, 2016

Pope Francis left Rome on Friday bound for Cuba, where he is to hold a historic meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill before continuing on to Mexico for a five-day visit.

Francis took off from Rome's shortly before 8:00am local time (0700 GMT) en route to Cuba, officially secular state, where he is due to have a two-hour private meeting with Kirill at Havana's Jose Marti airport.

The meeting on Friday afternoon will be the first encounter of the leaders of Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, -the two largest churches of the Christian world- in nearly 1,000 years.

After signing a joint declaration with Kirill, Francis will fly on to Mexico on a trip that will take him to the country's southern and northern borders and other areas ravaged by drugs-related violence.

Mexico is the most dangerous country for priests in Latin America.

According to the Catholic Multimedia Center, the drug war in Mexico that has killed tens of thousands of people in the past 10 years has also claimed the lives of at least 36 priests.

Cuban president Raul Castro (L) welcomes Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill (R), upon his arrival at Jose Marti International airport in Havana, February 11, 2016.