Pope Francis and top Shia cleric discuss plight of Iraq’s Christians

Pope Francis and top Shia cleric discuss plight of Iraq's Christians
Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. Source: AP Photo
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Daily US Times: Pope Francis has discussed the safety of the Christian minority of Iraq with one of Shia Islam’s most powerful figures, on his landmark trip to the country amid coronavirus pandemic.

Like many communities in Iraq, Christians have been hit by waves of violence over the years.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader of millions of Shia Muslims, said in a statement that the talks had emphasised peace.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani received his guest at his home in the holy city of Najaf.

The Pope is on his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – and the first ever papal visit to Iraq.

Coronavirus and security fears have made this his riskiest trip yet.

The 84-year-old leader of the Catholic Church earlier told journalist that he had felt “duty bound” to make the “emblematic” journey, which will see him visit several sites over four days in Iraq.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Iraq’s Christian minority has experienced considerable violence.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights”.

Pope Francis thanked Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for having “raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history, the AP reports.

He said the Shia leader’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people”.

Audiences with the reclusive ayatollah are rare but he received the Pope Francis for around 50 minutes, talking without face masks.

Pope Francis will later travel to the ancient city of Ur, where the Prophet Abraham – central to Islam, Judaism and Christianity – is believed to have been born.

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