NAJAF, Iraq — Pope Francis met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the vital senior clerics in Shiite Islam, in Iraq’s holy metropolis of Najaf on Saturday to ship a message of peaceable coexistence, urging Muslims to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority.
The historic assembly in al-Sistani’s humble residence was months within the making, with each element painstakingly mentioned and negotiated between the ayatollah’s workplace and the Vatican.
When the time got here, the 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy, led by a bullet-proof automobile, pull up alongside Najaf’s slender and column-lined Rasool Road, which culminates on the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, one of the vital revered websites on the earth for Shiites. He then walked the few yards to al-Sistani’s modest residence, which the cleric has rented for many years.
A bunch of Iraqis sporting 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 Shiite-majority Iraq and his opinions on non secular and different issues are sought by Shiites worldwide.
For Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority, a present of solidarity from al-Sistani may assist safe their place in Iraq after years of displacement — and, they hope, ease intimidation from Shiite militiamen towards their neighborhood.
The go to was being carried stay on Iraqi tv, and residents cheered the assembly of two revered religion leaders.
”We welcome the pope’s go to to Iraq and particularly to the holy metropolis of Najaf and his assembly with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani,” stated Najaf resident Haidar Al-Ilyawi. “It’s an historic go to and hope it is going to be good for Iraq and the Iraqi folks.”
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 higher fraternity amongst all peoples. It’s also his first worldwide journey because the begin of the coronavirus pandemic, and his assembly Saturday marked the primary time a pope had met a grand ayatollah.
On the few events the place he has made his opinion identified, the notoriously reclusive al-Sistani has shifted the course of Iraq’s fashionable historical past.
Within the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion he repeatedly preached calm and restraint because the Shiite majority got here underneath assault by al-Qaida and different Sunni extremists. The nation was however plunged into years of sectarian violence.
His 2014 fatwa, or non secular edict, calling on able-bodied males to affix the safety forces in preventing the Islamic State group swelled the ranks of Shiite militias, many carefully tied to Iran. In 2019, as anti-government demonstrations gripped the nation, his sermon result in the resignation of then-prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
Iraqis have welcomed the go to and the worldwide consideration it has given the nation because it struggles to get well from many years of warfare and unrest. Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group in 2017 however nonetheless sees sporadic assaults.
It has additionally seen latest rocket assaults by Iran-backed militias towards U.S. army and diplomatic services, adopted by U.S. airstrikes on militia targets in Iraq and neighboring Syria. The violence is linked to the standoff between the U.S. and Iran following Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord and its imposition of crippling sanctions on Iran.