Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, meets with Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq
Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, has held closed-door talks with Iraq’s prominent Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on the second day of his visit to the Arab country.
The meeting took place at Ayatollah Sistani’s residence in the holy city of Najaf on Saturday morning.
The office of Ayatollah Sistani said in a statement that he highlighted challenges facing mankind and stressed the role of belief in God and commitment to high moral values in overcoming them.
Ayatollah Sistani cited injustice, oppression, poverty, religious persecution, repression of fundamental freedoms, wars, violence, economic siege and displacement of many people in the region, especially the Palestinians in the occupied territories as some of the major problems which afflict the world.
The cleric touched on the role which religious and spiritual leaders can play in tackling some of these problems.
Ayatollah Sistani said religious leaders have to encourage parties invovled in conflicts, particularly the world powers, to give primacy to rationality over confrontation.
He also stressed the importance of efforts to strengthen peaceful coexistence and solidarity based on mutual respect among the followers of different religions and intellectual groups.
Ayatollah Sistani emphasized that the Christian citizens of Iraq, like all other Iraqis, should live in security and peace and enjoy their fundamental rights.
He referred to the role played by the religious authority in protecting Christians and all those who have suffered from the criminal acts of terrorists over the past years.
After the one-hour meeting, Pope Francis travelled to the Iraqi city of Ur, which is believed to be the birthplace of Prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him).
The pontiff arrived in Iraq on Friday for a three-day trip amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to Ayatollah Sistani, Pope Francis has so far met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih.
Iraq’s Christian community has seen its numbers drop from nearly 1.5 million to about 250,000, less than 1% of the population over the last two decades.
Iraqi Christians fled the country to escape the chaos and violence that ensued after the US invasion of the country in 2003.
Tens of thousands were also displaced when the Daesh terrorist group overran vast swathes in northern Iraq in 2014, targeting various ethnic and religious groups of the country.