Pope Francis of Vatican met with a leading Iraqi Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Saturday (Mar 2) as part of the first-ever visit by a head of the Catholic Church to the Middle Eastern country.
The 45-minute meeting was held in the cleric’s home in the city of Najaf.
Najaf is Iraq's main Shiite religious centre and a pilgrimage destination for Shiites from around the world. It is also home to the tomb of one of Islam's most revered figures, Ali ibn Abi Talib, also known as Imam ʿAlī, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law and the first man to convert to Islam.
The Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Al-Husayni Al-Sistani is the leader of Iraq's Shiites, who comprise more than 60 percent of the population, and is an influential figure in global Shiism and throughout the country
“The meeting was an occasion for the Pope to thank Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani for speaking up – together with the Shiite community – in defence of those most vulnerable and persecuted amid the violence and great hardships of recent years, and for affirming the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.” Vatican said in a release about the meeting.
The Pope is reported to have raised concerns over Iraq’s Christian communities, who have faced violence and persecution since the 2003 U.S. invasion overthrew then president Saddam Hussein.
Pope Francis also traveled to Ur of the Chaldeans, the birthplace of the three major religions—Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
Pope met with representatives of the three Abrahamic religions at Ur of the Chaldeans , and urged Christians, Muslims, and Jews to journey along a path of peace under the stars of the promise God made to Abraham.
“This blessed place brings us back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions,” the Pope said in his speech to representatives of the three Abrahamic religions.
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