Pope Francis has met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the vital senior leaders in Shia Islam, in Iraq’s holy metropolis of Najaf to ship a message of peaceable coexistence, urging Muslims to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority.
The historic assembly on Saturday in al-Sistani’s humble dwelling was months within the making, with each element painstakingly mentioned and negotiated between the ayatollah’s workplace and the Vatican.
After the assembly, al-Sistani workplace launched an announcement that stated non secular authorities have a job in defending Iraq’s Christians and that the Shia chief “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights”.
The Vatican stated Francis thanked al-Sistani and the Shia individuals for having “raised his voice in defence of the weakest and most persecuted” throughout a number of the most violent instances in Iraq’s current historical past.
He stated al-Sistani’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people”.
The 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy, led by a bullet-proof car, had pulled up for the assembly alongside Najaf’s slim and column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates on the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, one of the vital revered websites on the planet for Shia Muslims. He then walked the few metres to al-Sistani’s modest dwelling, which the Shia chief has rented for many years.
A bunch of Iraqis carrying conventional garments welcomed him exterior. As a masked Francis entered the doorway, a couple of white doves had been launched in an indication of peace.
The closed-door assembly was to the touch on points plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered determine in Shia-majority Iraq and and his opinions on non secular and different issues are sought by Shia Muslims worldwide.
For Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority, a present of solidarity from al-Sistani might assist safe their place in Iraq after years of displacement – and, they hope, ease intimidation from Shia armed teams towards their neighborhood.
The go to was being carried reside on Iraqi tv, and residents cheered the assembly of two revered religion leaders.
Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Najaf, stated it was “history in the making”.
“[Al-Sistani] is a very important leader, and obviously the pope is looking for some sort of support from the Iraqi Shia community to make sure that the dwindling Christian population of Iraq is not just protected, but gets to flourish as well.”
Marsin Alshamary, a analysis fellow on the Brookings Institution, advised Al Jazeera that it was “very significant” assembly.
“The Iraqi public is tired of conflict and it is an opportune moment to have this visit,” she stated.
“But it is important to recognise that this visit is nothing more than symbolic and that is more than enough. Having the pope visit Iraq for the first time in history is such an honour and it is such a great thing to be happening. And Iraqis are so happy to be hosting him.”
After his 50-minute assembly with al-Sistani, Francis headed to the ruins of historic Ur in southern Iraq, revered because the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In a speech, he urged Iraq’s Muslim and Christian non secular leaders to place apart animosities and work collectively for peace and unity.
“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,” he stated. “Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion.”
Later on Saturday, the pontiff celebrated Mass on the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph within the capital, Baghdad.
Historic go to
Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday and met with senior authorities officers on the first-ever papal go to to the nation, geared toward selling his name for better fraternity amongst all peoples. It can also be his first worldwide journey for the reason that begin of the coronavirus pandemic, and his assembly on Saturday marked the primary time a pope had met a grand ayatollah.
On the few events the place he has made his opinion recognized, the notoriously reclusive al-Sistani has shifted the course of Iraq’s trendy historical past.
In the years after the 2003 US-led invasion he repeatedly preached calm and restraint because the Shia majority got here beneath assault by al-Qaeda and different Sunni armed teams. The nation was nonetheless plunged into years of sectarian violence.
His 2014 fatwa, or non secular edict, calling on able-bodied males to hitch the safety forces in combating the ISIL (ISIS) group swelled the ranks of Shia militias, many intently tied to Iran. In 2019, as anti-government demonstrations gripped the nation, his sermon result in the resignation of then-prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
Iraqis have welcomed the go to and the worldwide consideration it has given the nation because it struggles to recuperate from many years of struggle and unrest. Iraq declared victory over ISIL in 2017 however nonetheless sees sporadic assaults.
It has additionally seen current rocket assaults by Iran-backed militias towards US navy and diplomatic amenities, adopted by US air strikes on militia targets in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
The violence is linked to the standoff between the US and Iran following Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord and its imposition of crippling sanctions on Iran.
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