This handout image launched by Ayatollah Sistani’s media workplace exhibits Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (L) assembly with Pope Francis and his delegation, at his dwelling within the holy metropolis of Najaf, on March 6, 2021. Picture: AFP/Ayatollah Sistani’s media workplace 
  • Assembly between two leaders lasted 50 minutes, with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani thanking Pope Francis for go to.
  • Sistani is extraordinarily reclusive and infrequently grants conferences however made an exception to host Francis.
  • It took months of cautious negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to safe the one-on-one assembly.

NAJAF: In a historic assembly, Iraq’s highest cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Saturday instructed Pope Francis that the Iraqi Christians ought to reside in “peace.”

The assembly, on the second day of the first-ever papal go to to Iraq, marked a landmark second in fashionable non secular historical past.

Pope Francis is defying a second wave of coronavirus instances and renewed safety fears to make a “long-awaited” journey to Iraq, aiming to consolation the nation’s historic Christian group and deepen his dialogue with different religions.

The assembly between the 2 aged males lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s workplace placing out an announcement shortly afterwards thanking Francis, 84, for visiting the holy metropolis of Najaf.

Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian residents ought to reside like all Iraqis in peace and safety, and with their full constitutional rights,” it stated.

His workplace revealed a picture of the 2, neither sporting masks: Sistani in a black turban together with his wispy gray beard reaching all the way down to his black gown and Francis all in white, wanting straight on the grand ayatollah.

Sistani is extraordinarily reclusive and infrequently 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 fourth caliph who’s buried within the holy metropolis.

“Individuals are of two varieties, both your brothers in religion or your equals in humanity,” learn the banners.

‘We really feel proud’

The assembly is without doubt one of the highlights of Francis’s four-day journey to war-scarred Iraq, the place Sistani has performed a key position in tamping down tensions in current many years.

It took months of cautious negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to safe the one-on-one assembly.

“We really feel happy with what this go to represents and we thank those that made it doable,” stated Mohamed Ali Bahr al-Ulum, a senior cleric in Najaf.

Pope Francis, a powerful proponent of interfaith dialogue, has met high Sunni clerics in a number of Muslim-majority international locations, together with Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Sistani, in the meantime, is adopted by many of the world’s 200 million Shias — a minority amongst Muslims however the majority in Iraq — and is a nationwide determine for Iraqis.

“Ali Sistani is a non secular chief with a excessive ethical authority,” stated Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, the top of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a specialist in Islamic research.

Sistani started his non secular research on the age of 5, climbing by the ranks of Shia clergy to grand ayatollah within the 1990s.

Whereas Saddam Hussein was in energy, he languished beneath home arrest for years, however emerged after the US-led invasion toppled the repressive regime in 2003 to play an unprecedented public position.

In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding higher public providers and rejecting exterior interference in Iraq’s home affairs.

On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made an analogous plea.

“Could partisan pursuits stop, these outdoors pursuits who do not have in mind the native inhabitants,” Francis stated.

‘Nice status’

Sistani has had an advanced relationship together with his birthplace Iran, the place the opposite important seat of Shia 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 stated the go to might strengthen Najaf’s standing in comparison with Qom.

“The Najaf college has nice status and is extra secular than the extra non secular Qom college,” Ayuso stated.

“Najaf locations extra weight on social affairs,” he added.

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 endorse, however clerical sources in Najaf instructed AFP it’s unlikely.

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 day by day.

Following his go to to the grand ayatollah, the pope will head to the desert web site of the traditional metropolis of Ur — believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, frequent patriarch of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths — the place he’ll host an interfaith service, with lots of Iraq’s different non secular minorities in attendance.

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