Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The closed-door meeting was expected to touch on issues plaguing Iraq's Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. (AP Photo/Vatican Media)
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.