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AFP
March 7, 2021

Pope meets Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq

Top Story

AFP
March 7, 2021

NAJAF: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in Iraq on Saturday that the country's Christians should live in "peace".

The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history and a milestone in Francis's efforts to deepen dialogue with other religions.

He later addressed the rich spectrum of Iraq's religious communities at Ur, traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham (AS), where he made an impassioned plea for "unity" after conflict.

The 84-year-old pontiff's trip to Iraq is an effort to both comfort the country's ancient but dwindling Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other faiths. His meeting with the Grand Ayatollah lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani's office putting out a statement shortly afterwards thanking Francis for visiting the holy city of Najaf.

Sistani, 90, "affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights," it said. Sistani is extremely reclusive and rarely grants meetings but made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of inter religious dialogue.

"People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity," read the banners. Francis then headed straight to the desert site of the ancient city of Ur, where Abraham (AS) is believed to have been born. "It all started from here," Pope Francis said, after hearing from representatives of Iraq's diverse religious communities.

During his address, Pope Francis said freedom of conscience and of religion were "fundamental rights" that should be respected everywhere.

"We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion," Francis said, in a message of solidarity with the minorities persecuted under IS rule. He also made an impassioned plea for "unity" after the conflict.