Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill walks with penguins

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is seen near penguins as he visits the Island of Waterloo in the Antarctic, in this handout photo released by Russian patriarchate February 18, 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Patriarch Kirill wore a red lifejacket for his meeting with the penguins

Not satisfied with one groundbreaking encounter this week, the head of Russia's Orthodox Church has followed his talks with Pope Francis by meeting a rookery of penguins in Antarctica.

Flying from the warm climes of Cuba, where he met the Pope, Patriarch Kirill held prayers at a research station before taking a walk with the animals.

He tended to the chicks, some of which chased him with flippers outstretched.

A picture of the 69-year-old kneeling eye-to-eye with one went viral.

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Media captionPatriarch Kirill meets penguins at Russia's Bellingshausen scientific station on the Island of Waterloo, in the Antarctic on the final leg of his tour of Latin American nations

Russia has 10 research stations in the Antarctic, able to accommodate up to 120 people. Patriarch Kirill visited one, the Bellingshausen research station on the island of Waterloo.

The Russian Orthodox church near the Bellingshausen station, which opened in 2004, is the only church on the continent to hold services all year round, with priests spending the winter there.

Church officials said the Patriarch prayed for polar researchers, including 64 Russians who have died on polar expeditions.

His visit was the first ever by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to Antarctica. It followed the first encounter between a head of Russian Orthodox Church and a pope in nearly 1,000 years.

Since becoming Pope in 2013, Pope Francis has called for better relations between the different branches of Christianity.

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