Pope, top Iraq Shiite cleric hold historic, symbolic meeting

  • By Nicole Winfield and Qassim Abdul-Zahra/AP

(Plains of UR, Iraq)  —  Pope Francis and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric have delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence, urging Muslims to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority during an historic meeting.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said religious authorities have a role in protecting Iraq’s Christians, and that they should live in peace and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis.

The Vatican says Francis thanked 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 pope then traveled to the ruins of the ancient city of Ur, the traditional birthplace of the biblical patriarch Abraham, for an interfaith meeting.

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