Pope to meet top Shia leader in Iraq

Pope to meet top Shia leader

Pope Francis will meet the Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani during the first-ever Papal visit to Iraq.

The meeting between Francis, the global leader of the Catholic Church, and al-Sistani, the highest religious authority of Iraqi Shi’ism, is due to take place in the city of Najaf.

The pope will also visit the cities Baghdad, Mosul and Ur on the visit scheduled for March 5-8.

The Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Cardinal Louis-Raphael Sako, said the meeting with Sistani would be a ‘private visit’ between the two religious figures ‘without formalities’.

Sako said he hoped the two figures would sign the document on “human fraternity for world peace”, an interreligious text condemning “extremism”. Pope Francis signed the document with the leading Sunni scholar, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, in 2019.

Iraq once counted more than 1.5 million Christians, but the community has been ravaged by successive conflicts. Now, an estimated 400,000 Christians remain in Iraq.

Many Christians have expressed hope that the pope’s visit will highlight the challenges facing the community, including prolonged displacement and little representation in government.

In addition to meeting with al-Sistani, Pope Francis will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi, before going to the Presidential Palace and meeting with the country’s President Barham Salih.

Other events scheduled during the Papal visit include:
• visiting the Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad, where 48 Christians were killed by terrorists in 2010
• celebrating Mass in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph’s in Baghdad
• participating in an interfaith meeting near the ruins of the ancient city of Ur
• presiding at a “prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war” in Mosul
• offering Mass in the Franso Hariri Stadium, Erbil, which can accommodate nearly 28,000 people.

Pope Francis will return to Rome on the morning of Mar 8. And, as has become custom, it is expected that he will hold a press conference with journalists accompanying him on the papal plane.



La Croix International


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