Pope Francis meets Iraq’s high Shiite cleric Ali Sistani, appeals for ‘peace and unity’
The 84-year-old pontiff’s journey to Iraq is an effort to each consolation the nation’s historic however dwindling Christian group and deepen his dialogue with representatives of different faiths
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, non secular chief of a lot of the world’s Shiite Muslims, informed Pope Francis in a historic assembly in Iraq on Saturday that the nation’s Christians ought to stay in “peace.”
The assembly, on the second day of the first-ever papal go to to Iraq, marked a landmark second in trendy non secular historical past and a milestone in Francis’s efforts to deepen dialogue with different religions.
He later addressed the wealthy spectrum of Iraq’s non secular communities at Ur, the normal birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, a central determine within the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, the place he made an impassioned plea for “unity” after battle.
The 84-year-old pontiff’s journey to Iraq is an effort to each consolation the nation’s historic however dwindling Christian group and deepen his dialogue with different faiths.
His assembly with the grand ayatollah lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s workplace placing out an announcement shortly afterwards thanking Francis for visiting the holy metropolis of Najaf.
Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian residents ought to stay like all Iraqis in peace and safety, and with their full constitutional rights,” it mentioned.
His workplace printed a picture of the 2, neither sporting masks: Sistani in a black turban along with his wispy gray beard reaching all the way down to his black gown and Francis all in white, wanting instantly on the grand ayatollah.
Sistani is extraordinarily reclusive and barely grants conferences however made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of interreligious dialogue.
The Pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, the place posters had been arrange that includes a well-known saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Mohammed’s relative, who’s buried within the holy metropolis.
“Persons are of two sorts, both your brothers in religion or your equals in humanity,” learn the banners.
– ‘It began right here’ –
Francis then headed straight to the desert web site of the traditional metropolis of Ur, the place Abraham is believed to have been born within the second millenium BC.
“It began from right here,” Pope Francis mentioned, after listening to from representatives of Iraq’s various non secular communities.
There have been Yazidis, whose ancestral heartland of Sinjar was ravaged by the Islamic State group in 2014, in addition to Mandeans, Kakais, Bahais and Zoroastrians.
Shiite and Sunni sheikhs, in addition to Christian clerics, have been in attendance.
Every have been sporting their conventional non secular garb, with a dozen various kinds of gown and headdress on show within the red-carpeted pavilion arrange for the go to.
Iraq is a Muslim-majority nation of 40 million whose Christian inhabitants has shrunk within the final 20 years to only one %, with minorities nonetheless complaining of ostracism and persecution.
Throughout his tackle, Pope Francis mentioned freedom of conscience and of faith have been “elementary rights” that needs to be revered in every single place.
“We believers can’t be silent when terrorism abuses faith,” Francis mentioned, in a message of solidarity with the minorities persecuted beneath IS rule.
He additionally made an impassioned plea for “unity” after battle.
“Allow us to ask for this in praying for the entire Center East. Right here I believe particularly of neighbouring war-torn Syria,” he mentioned.
Following the prayer service in Ur, Pope Francis is to go again to Baghdad to preside over a mass on the St. Joseph Cathedral.
– ‘Stop partisan pursuits’ –
Pope Francis, a powerful proponent of interfaith dialogue, has met high Sunni clerics in a number of Muslim-majority nations, together with Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Sistani, in the meantime, is adopted by a lot of the world’s 200 million Shiites — a minority amongst Muslims however the majority in Iraq — and is a nationwide determine for Iraqis.
In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding higher public companies and rejecting exterior interference in Iraq’s home affairs.
On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made the same plea.
“Might partisan pursuits stop, these exterior pursuits who do not keep in mind the native inhabitants,” Francis mentioned.
Sistani has had an advanced relationship along with his birthplace Iran, the place the opposite predominant seat of Shiite non secular authority lies: Qom.
Whereas Najaf affirms the separation of faith and politics, Qom believes the highest cleric — Iran’s supreme chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — also needs to govern.
Iraqi clerics and Christian leaders mentioned the go to may strengthen Najaf’s standing in comparison with Qom.
In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and a key authority for Sunni Muslims.
They signed a textual content encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would additionally again, however the assembly handed with out such an endorsement.
Whereas the Pope has been vaccinated and inspired others to get the jab, Sistani’s workplace has not introduced his vaccination.
Iraq is at the moment gripped by a resurgence of coronavirus instances, recording greater than 5,000 infections and greater than two dozen deaths every day.
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