On Saturday, March 6, in Najaf, Pope Francis met with the highest Shiite cleric of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. This is the first-ever meeting of the Pope with such a high-ranking Shiite cleric.
Reported by Reuters.
How was the meeting
Pope Francis called on the Iraqis to let the peacekeepers in to give them a chance to settle the conflicts. He later visited a church in Baghdad, where he paid tribute to those killed in the sectarian attacks. In this church in 2010, Islamist militants killed about 50 believers.
After a 55-minute meeting with Ali al-Sistani, the Pope headed for the ruins of ancient Ur in southern Iraq, revered as the birthplace of Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is planned that he will give a speech at the interfaith meeting.
Later, Pope Francis is expected to celebrate Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph.
It is noteworthy that the children lined up along the street to greet dad. They waved the flags of Iraq and the Vatican in front of him.
Who is Ali al-Sistani
Ali al-Sistani is considered one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam, not only in Iraq but also beyond. He has a huge influence on politics. For example, it was his decrees that first sent Iraqis to free polling stations in 2005, rallied hundreds of thousands to fight the Islamic State in 2014, and toppled the Iraqi government under pressure from mass demonstrations in 2019.
Sistani, 90, rarely meets anyone. He is considered a recluse. He worked at his Spartan base near the golden sanctuary of Imam Ali in Najaf.
According to his associates, he refused to negotiate with the current and former Prime Ministers of Iraq. And with the Pope, he agreed to hold a meeting, but on condition that there are no Iraqi officials.
The meeting of the two leaders took place at Sistani's humble home, which he rented for decades, along a narrow alley in Najaf.
Why the Pope decided to visit Iraq
Pope Francis flew to Iraq under the strictest security measures to urge the country's leaders and people to end violent violence and sectarian strife. The visit follows a series of missile and terrorist attacks, as well as a spike in COVID-19 cases.
He said he wants to show solidarity with the devastated Christian community in Iraq, numbering about 300,000 people. This represents only one-fifth of the number before the 2003 US invasion and brutal violence.
Pope John Paul II planned to make such a visit in 2000, but he had to cancel the planned trip after the failure of negotiations with the government of then-leader Saddam Hussein.
Note that Iraq's security improved after the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017, but the country continues to be an arena for global and regional settling of scores, especially the fierce rivalry between the United States and Iran, which played out on Iraqi soil.
We will remind, earlier the head of the Catholic Church Francis predicted a new global flood due to climate change.
We also wrote that the Vatican, where the COVID-19 immunization campaign began last month, threatened to fire those who refuse the injection without good reason.