Middle East

Pope Francis meets Iraq’s top Shia cleric Sistani

After Najaf, Francis will hold inter-religious meeting in Ur, a plain in southern Iraq

Pope Francis meets Iraq’s top Shia cleric Sistani


Pope Francis held a historic meeting on Saturday with Iraq’s top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in the southern Najaf city.

The meeting came as part of the pontiff’s current visit to Iraq, which started on Friday.

A statement issued by Sistani’s office said the meeting “focused on challenges facing humanity and the role of faith in overcoming these challenges”.

“Many people in different countries suffer from injustice, oppression, poverty, religious and intellectual discrimination, suppression of basic freedoms and absence of religious justice,” the statement quoted Sistani as saying during the meeting.

“Many of the people in our region suffer from wars, violence, economic blockade and displacement, particularly the Palestinian people in the occupied lands,” he added.

The Shia cleric said Iraqi Christians should "live like all Iraqis, in security and peace and with full constitutional rights”.

During Saturday's meeting, Pope Francis thanked Sistani for having "raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted," the Vatican said in a statement.

According to an Anadolu Agency reporter, the meeting, which took place at Sistani’s office in Najaf, focused on peaceful coexistence between different religious groups in Iraq. The meeting continued for 50 minutes, with no media presence.

According to statements by both offices of Pope Francis and Sistani, the meeting took months in preparations.

After Najaf, Francis is expected to depart for the southern province of Dhi Qar, where he will hold an inter-religious meeting on the Plain of Ur, considered the birthplace of Prophet Abraham.

Pope Francis arrived in Baghdad where he separately met Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Barham Saleh as well as other government and religious Iraqi figures.

On his schedule, the pontiff will also travel to Erbil, northern Iraq, where he will meet with Kurdish Regional Government's Prime Minister Masrour Barzani.

*Ahmed Asmar in Ankara contributed to this report

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