World Historic meeting between Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani
Francis prepares first-ever papal visit to Iraq
Pope Francis is to start the first-ever papal visit to Iraq on Friday, an act of solidarity with an ancient but dwindling Christian community and a symbolic outreach to Muslims. At the time, Pope Francis endorsed military action against IS and considered visiting northern Iraq in solidarity with Christians there. Video: Iraqi Christians, decimated by Islamist violence, prepare for pope's visit (Reuters) Your browser does not support this video That trip never materialised, but Francis has kept a close eye on Iraq, condemning the killing of unarmed protesters during mass anti-government rallies from 2019.
Pope Francis meets in Najaf, on the second day of his visit to Iraq, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a figure of Shiite Islam and in Iraq. The interview, in camera, should last about an hour.
Iraq is, on Saturday March 6, the scene of an unprecedented summit meeting: Pope Francis, leader of the 1.3 billion Catholics in the world, is received by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest religious authority of many Shia Muslims from Iraq and elsewhere.
After meeting the Catholic clergy on his arrival in Baghdad on Friday, the 84-year-old Argentine pope reaches out to Shia Islam by visiting the 90-year-old dignitary - who never appears in public - in his modest home from the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 200 km south of Baghdad.
Pope Francis goes to Iraq to rally fading Christians amid pandemic
Pope Francis heads to Iraq on Friday to urge the country’s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns to make his first-ever papal visit. Iraqis were keen to welcome him and the global attention his visit will bring, with banners and posters hanging high in central Baghdad, and billboards depicting Francis with the slogan "We are all Brothers" decorating the main thoroughfare.
The two men will meet for nearly an hour for a "private" visit, two years after Pope Francis signed with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, an institution of Sunni Islam in Egypt, a " document on human fraternity ".
Neither the press nor other guests will attend this closed session which started at 6 a.m. GMT but the addition of this step to the papal program is already a source of pride for many Shiites in a country that has been going for 40 years of conflict in crisis, passing by a deadly civil war between Shiite Muslims and Sunnis.
"We are proud of what this visit represents (…), it will give another dimension to the holy city", congratulates the Shiite cleric Mohammed Ali Bahr al-Ouloum to AFP.
Guarantor of the independence of Iraq
As he gets off the plane, the Sovereign Pontiff will be able to read the immense call for dialogue posted on the airport for his arrival.
Pope says he will visit Iraq as 'pilgrim of peace'
On the eve of his historic trip to Iraq, Pope Francis paid tribute Thursday to those who have suffered from years of violence, saying he goes there as a "pilgrim of peace". Francis also paid tribute to the minority Yazidi community, "who have suffered so much".In a video message, the 84-year-old offered his hand to "brothers and sisters of other religions", but also highlighted the heavy toll paid by Iraq's Christian communities, saying there had been "too many martyrs".
"There are two kinds of men: either your brothers in the faith, or your equals in humanity", assures the banner, quoting Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and founding figure of Shiism buried in the holy city.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the highest authority for the majority of the 200 million Shiites in the world - a minority among the 1.8 billion Muslims. His only religious rival is the Iranian Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Of Iranian nationality, the Grand Ayatollah Sistani has stood for decades as guarantor of the independence of Iraq and runs a theological school which advocates the withdrawal of religious from politics - they must only advise - unlike the school of Qom in Iran.
"The theological school of Najaf is more secular than that of Qom, more religious", recalls the Spanish cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Najaf, he adds, "gives more weight to the social aspect".
Pope Francis meets Iraq’s Shia leader al-Sistani
The pontiff met Ali al-Sistani in holy city of Najaf to urge Muslims to embrace Iraq’s beleaguered Christians.The historic meeting on Saturday in al-Sistani’s humble home was months in the making, with every detail painstakingly discussed and negotiated between the ayatollah’s office and the Vatican.
Words always skilfully weighed
The Grand Ayatollah also used all of his weight to bring down the government, which for months in 2019, conspired by young demonstrators tired of seeing their country sink into corruption and mismanagement.
The Pope and the Grand Ayatollah are two religious figures who regularly make political comments. But both skilfully weigh their words.
Once again, the Pope has strewn his speech to the Iraqi authorities with allusions to the situation in the country, caught between its two great American and Iranian allies. "That partisan interests cease, these external interests which are not interested in the local population", thus launched François.
The Pope's visit - under very high security - also takes place against a background of total containment with more than 5,000 infections by Covid-19 every day. While the Pope was vaccinated before his trip, the Grand Ayatollah's office did not report any such measures.
After Najaf, François must continue his journey south, to Ur, an ancient city where according to tradition the patriarch Abraham was born. There he will pray with Shiite, Sunni, Yazidi and Sabaean dignitaries.
The Pope confides that his meeting with the Grand Ayatollah "has done him good to the soul" .
L Pope Francis, very tired by his historic three-day trip to Iraq , confided on Monday in the plane back that his meeting with the great Shiite Ayatollah Ali Sistani had done him "good to the soul". A great advocate of direct dialogue with representatives of Islam, François described a tête-à-tête with "a humble and wise man" with whom he felt "honored".