Pope, top Iraq cleric hold historic meeting

UR (IRAQ): Pope Francis and Iraq’s top Shia cleric delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence on Saturday, urging Muslims in the Arab nation to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority during a historic meeting in the holy city of Najaf. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said religious authorities have a role in protecting Iraq’s Christians, and that Christians should live in peace and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis.
The Vatican said Francis thanked al-Sistani for having “raised his voice in defence of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s history. Al-Sistani, 90, is one of the most senior clerics in Shia Islam and his political interventions have helped shape present-day Iraq.
The 84-year-old pontiff arrived in Najaf and pulled up along a street which ends at the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in Shia Islam. He then walked the few metres to al-Sistani’s modest home. The official said al-Sistani, who normally remains seated for visitors, stood to greet Francis at the door of his room — a rare honour. The “very positive” meeting lasted a total of 40 minutes, said a religious official in Najaf.
The pope later arrived in the ancient city of Ur for an interfaith meeting in the traditional birthplace of Abraham, the biblical patriarch revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews. “From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters,” Francis said.

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