Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, right, and Pope Francis. (AP/Ivan Sekretarev/Andrew Medichini, Files)

The leaders of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches will meet for the first time since their schism 1,000 years ago, in order to discuss the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

The two-hour meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow will be held at Havana Airport in Cuba next week.

“This event has extraordinary importance in the path of ecumenical relations and dialogue among Christian confessions,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Senior Russian Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said the two denominations “need to put aside internal disagreements at this tragic time and join efforts to save Christians in the regions where they are subject to the most atrocious persecution.”

“The situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa, and in some other regions in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian churches,” said Hilarion.

The Great Schism of 1054 separated the Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic churches over ecclesiastical differences.