In a remarkable meeting,two of the most venerated religious leaders in the world reached out to each other on Saturday to propogate peace and harmony. Pope Francis, 84, the religious head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and Isl, 90, the spiritual leader of most of the world’s Shia Muslims discussed for almost an hour during the first ever papal visit to Iraq.This was Pope Francis’ first trip abroad since the the Covid-19 pandemic spread throughout the world.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was dressed in black and “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights.” Pope Francis, dressed in white, thanked Sistani for having “raised his voice in defence of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history, the Vatican said.The four-day trip of the Pope began on Friday.The meeting, on the second day of the trip, is a watershed moment in modern religious history and a remarkable landmark in the Pope’s efforts to initiate dialogue with other religious heads.
On Sunday, the Pope will visit Mosul ,a former IS hotbed for three years.He will say prayers in Church Square for the victims of the war which had left tens of thousands of civilians dead.He will also visit Iraq’s largest church, which was partly destroyed in an attack in nearby Qaraqosh, where Christians have returned lately.About 10,000 Iraqi Security Forces personnel have been positioned to protect the Pope during his visit,and full-time curfews have been put in place to limit the spread of Covid.
“The age-old presence of Christians in this land, and their contributions to the life of the nation, constitute a rich heritage that they wish to continue to place at the service of all,” the Pope said in his first speech in the country. Christian leaders estimate there close to 250,000 Christians remaining in Iraq,with the largest population – at least 200,000 – living in the Nineveh Plain and Kurdistan Region in the north of the country.