Middle East

Pope Francis meets prime Iraqi cleric Ali Sistani in ‘historic’ assembly

The Iraqis hailed a “historic” assembly between Pope Francis and the nation’s oldest Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, throughout which each reiterated their dedication to spiritual tolerance.

The assembly befell on the second day of the first-ever papal go to to Iraq, with the Pope defying a second wave of coronavirus circumstances and renewing safety fears to make a “long-awaited” journey to the nation.

The pinnacle of the Catholic Church has declared his purpose of comforting the nation’s historical Christian group and deepening its dialogue with different religions.

His assembly with the best authority in Shia Islam lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s workplace issuing an announcement shortly after thanking Francis, 84, for his go to to 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 all their constitutional rights,” he mentioned.

His workplace launched a picture of the 2, sporting no masks, Sistani in a black turban along with his wispy grey beard reaching right down to his black gown and Francis all in white wanting instantly on the Grand Ayatollah.

Sistani is extraordinarily reclusive and barely grants conferences, however made an exception to welcome Francis, a robust supporter of interfaith dialogue.

The pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, the place posters had been positioned with a well-known saying from Ali, the fourth caliph and relative of the Prophet Muhammad. Ali is buried within the holy metropolis.

“There are two sorts of individuals, both your brothers within the religion or your equals in humanity,” learn the banners.

‘Excessive ethical authority’

The reunion is among the highlights of Francis’ four-day journey to war-torn Iraq, the place Sistani has performed a key position in easing tensions over the previous many years.

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

“We’re happy with what this go to represents and we thank those that made it attainable,” mentioned Mohamed Ali Bahr al-Ulum, a senior cleric from Najaf.

Pope Francis, a robust supporter of interfaith dialogue, met with senior Sunni clerics in a number of Muslim-majority nations, together with Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

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

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

Sistani started his spiritual research on the age of 5, climbing the ranks of the Shia clergy to the Grand Ayatollah within the Nineties.

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 sided with Iraqi protesters to demand higher public providers and reject outdoors interference in Iraq’s inner affairs.

Pope Francis made the same enchantment in Baghdad on Friday.

“Let the partisan pursuits stop, these exterior pursuits which don’t take into consideration the native inhabitants,” mentioned Francis.

‘Nice status’

In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met with 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 dialogue between Christians and Muslims, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would additionally approve of, however church sources in Nadjaf advised AFP that was unlikely.

Whereas the Pope was vaccinated towards Covid-19 and inspired others to get vaccinated, Sistani’s workplace didn’t announce his vaccination.

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Iraq is presently within the throes of a resurgence of coronavirus circumstances, recording greater than 5,000 infections and greater than two dozen deaths per day.

After 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 Prophet Abraham, widespread patriarch of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths – the place he’ll host an interfaith service. , with the participation of many different Iraqi spiritual minorities.

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