NAJAF (IRAQ) – Pope Francis begins the second day of his historic Iraq go to on Saturday with a unprecedented assembly with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest authority for the nation’s Shiite Muslims.
The 84-year-old pontiff is defying a second wave of coronavirus instances and renewed safety fears to make a “long-awaited” journey to Iraq, aiming to consolation the nation’s historical Christian group, whereas additionally deepening his dialogue with different religions.
Having spoken to the devoted in Baghdad on Friday, Francis will journey to the Iraqi shrine metropolis of Najaf early on Saturday to see 90-year-old Sistani.
The 2 will meet at 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) in Sistani’s humble dwelling in one in all Najaf’s tiny alleyways, with no press allowed, because the Grand Ayatollah is sort of by no means seen in public.
The go to is among the highlights of Francis’ four-day journey to war-scarred Iraq, the place Sistani has performed a key position in tamping down tensions in latest many years.
It took months of cautious negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to safe the one-on-one assembly.
“We really feel pleased with what this go to represents and we thank those that made it doable,” stated Mohamed Ali Bahr al-Ulum, a senior cleric in Najaf.
On his arrival, the Pope might be greeted by posters that includes a well-known saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Mohammed’s relative, who’s buried in Najaf.
“Individuals are of two sorts, both your brothers in religion or your equals in humanity,” learn the banners.
– ‘Excessive ethical authority’ –
Pope Francis, a robust proponent of interfaith efforts, has met high Sunni clerics in a number of Muslim-majority international locations, together with Bangladesh, Turkey, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
Sistani, in the meantime, is adopted by many of the world’s 200 million Shiites — a minority amongst Muslims however the majority in Iraq — and is a nationwide determine for Iraqis.
“Ali Sistani is a spiritual chief with a excessive ethical authority,” stated Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot the top of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a specialist in Islamic research.
Sistani started his non secular research on the age of 5, ascending by way of the ranks of Shiite clergy to grand ayatollah within the 1990s.
Whereas Saddam Hussein was in energy, he languished underneath home arrest for years, however emerged after the US-led invasion that toppled the repressive regime to play an unprecedented public position.
In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding higher public companies and shunning exterior interference in Iraq’s home affairs.
On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made an analogous plea.
“Might partisan pursuits stop, these outdoors pursuits who do not take note of the native inhabitants,” Francis stated.
Sistani has had a sophisticated relationship along with his birthplace Iran, the place the opposite important seat of Shiite non secular authority lies: Qom.
Whereas Najaf affirms the separation of faith and politics, Qom believes the highest cleric — Iran’s supreme chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — must also govern.
– ‘Nice status’ –
Iraqi clerics and Christian leaders stated the go to might strengthen Najaf’s standing in comparison with Qom.
“The Najaf college has nice status and is extra secular than the extra non secular Qom college,” Ayuso stated.
“Najaf locations extra weight on social affairs,” he added.
In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and a key authority for Sunni Muslims.
They signed a textual content encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would additionally endorse, however clerical sources in Najaf instructed AFP it’s unlikely.
Whereas the Pope has been vaccinated and inspired others to get the jab, Sistani’s workplace has not introduced his vaccination.
Iraq is presently gripped by a resurgence of coronavirus instances, recording greater than 5,000 infections and greater than two dozen deaths day by day.
Following his go to to the Grand Ayatollah, the Pope will head to the desert website of the traditional metropolis of Ur — believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham — the place he’ll host an interfaith service, with a lot of Iraq’s different non secular minorities in attendance.