Baghdad (AP) – The second day of Pope Francis’s journey to Iraq marked the religious highlight of his visit. On Saturday morning, the head of the Catholic Church met with the highest-ranking Shia clergyman in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Francis thanked the 90-year-old for standing up for the persecuted. He also promoted cooperation between the religious communities. The meeting took place behind closed doors in Najaf, southern Iraq. Al-Sistani’s side reported that the Grand Ayatollah had spoken of the oppression, poverty and persecution of many peoples in the Middle East. He also addressed the situation of the Palestinians.
The two have not signed a joint statement. In 2019, during his visit to the United Arab Emirates, Francis signed a joint document with the great Imam of Egypt and the high religious representative of Sunni Islam, Ahmed al-Tajjib. It was entitled “The Brotherhood of All Men – For Peaceful Coexistence in the World”.
After talking to Al-Sistani, Francis went to the plain of Ur for the interfaith meeting, the next highlight of the day. The area looks back on thousands of years of cultural history. According to Old Testament biblical tradition, Abraham was from this region. The place is therefore of great importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians, as all three religions consider Abraham to be the progenitor.
Francis denounced the destruction during the Iraq War. “When terrorism raged in the north of this precious land, it barbarically destroyed some of the beautiful religious heritage, including churches, monasteries and places of worship of various communities,” Francis said at the interfaith meeting with Christians, Muslims and Yazidis. Contrary to initially planned, Jews did not participate in the meeting.
The 84-year-old was impressed by the story of the two young men Dawud and Hassan. The Christian and the Muslim started a business together to finance their studies, among other things – although they do not belong to the same religion. Young people’s dreams should not be destroyed by past conflicts, the Argentinian said.
Francis was the first Pope to travel to Iraq. Above all, the Christians, who form a shrinking minority in the country with 38 million inhabitants, have long been waiting for his visit. He wants to meet her on Sunday when he travels to northern Iraq and visits the cities of Mosul and Qaraqosh there. On Saturday evening (local time) Francis would read mass in Baghdad.