Pope Francis to meet Shiite leader Ali Sistani in Iraq

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Iraq’s high Catholic official mentioned Thursday {that a} lethal suicide bombing in Baghdad hasn’t thwarted Pope Francis’ plans to go to, and he confirmed the pontiff would meet with the nation’s high Shiite cleric, Ali al-Sistani, in a big spotlight of the first-ever papal journey to Iraq.

The Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, supplied the primary particulars of Francis’ March 5-8 itinerary throughout a digital press convention hosted by the French bishops’ convention. The Vatican has confirmed the go to, but it surely nonetheless may very well be known as off given the coronavirus pandemic.

The journey is aimed primarily at encouraging the nation’s beleaguered Christians, who confronted many years of discrimination by the Muslim majority earlier than being focused relentlessly by Islamic State militants beginning in 2014.

But the primary go to by a pope to Iraq additionally has a powerful interfaith element. Francis is scheduled to journey to Najaf on March 6 to meet with al-Sistani, one of many world’s main Shiite leaders, and to host an interfaith assembly that very same day in the traditional metropolis of Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, in accordance to Sako.

Francis has spent years making an attempt to forge improved relations with Muslims. He signed a historic doc on human fraternity in 2019 with a outstanding Sunni leader, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the seat of Sunni studying in Cairo.

Brother Amir Jaje, an Iraqi Dominican who’s an knowledgeable on Shiite relations, mentioned he hoped Sistani would additionally signal onto the fraternity doc, which requires Christians and Muslims to work collectively for peace.

Francis’ assembly with Sistani will probably be enormously symbolic for Iraqis, particularly its Christians, for whom the encounter will mark a turning level in their nation’s usually fraught interfaith relations.

Christian communities that date to the time of Christ had been run over by IS militants, and hundreds of individuals had been pressured to flee in search of security and a greater life. The Vatican has known as for Iraqi authorities and the worldwide group to present the safety, financial and social circumstances to enable them to return, arguing that Christians are a small however essential a part of Iraqi society.

The assembly’s implicit message of coexistence would resonate amongst members of the Christian minority, who’ve expressed fears of demographic change following liberation from the Islamic State. Most blame militia teams for erecting checkpoints close to their villages and houses, deterring many from returning.

Sistani is a robust spiritual determine whose opinion holds sway over the predominately Shiite road. He not often intervenes in political affairs, however his 2014 fatwa was instrumental in the creation of Shiite militia teams who fought the Islamic State alongside Iraqi forces. In 2019, his sermon led to the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi amid stress from anti-government protests.

The Vatican has confirmed Francis’ intention to go to Iraq and made all of the pre-trip preparations, together with sending entrance groups to Iraq to work out logistics and safety, and accrediting media to journey on the papal aircraft.

A uncommon twin suicide bombing final week, nevertheless, has sparked

. The assault struck a busy Baghdad business middle, killing 32 and wounding over 100. It was the deadliest assault to strike the capital in years.

Sako dismissed the importance of the bombing on the general safety state of affairs in Iraq and mentioned, “There is not any threat for the pope.“

However, the coronavirus pandemic might power the journey to be suspended at any minute.

“The risk is not for him, it’s for others,” Jaje mentioned, noting that whereas Iraq’s day by day confirmed caseload is much decrease than in European international locations, it’s testing capability can be decrease. Francis and the Vatican delegation may have been vaccinated by the point of the journey.

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