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Pope Francis, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani Hold Closed Meeting in Iraq

  •  World

Pope Francis and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence Saturday, urging Muslims in Iraq to embrace the country’s Christian minority during an historic meeting in the holy city of Najaf, AP reports.

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

Early Saturday, the 84-year-old pontiff, travelling in a bullet-proof car, pulled up along Najaf’s narrow and column-lined Rasool Street. He then walked the few meters to al-Sistani’s modest home, which the cleric has rented for decades.

A group of Iraqis wearing traditional clothes welcomed him outside. As a masked Francis entered the doorway, a few white doves were released in a sign of peace.

Issues related to the persecuted Christian minority in Iraq were discussed during the closed meeting.

Al-Sistani, 90, is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq, and his opinions on religious and other matters are sought by Shiites worldwide.  


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