“Terror abuses religion,” Pope Francis denounced today, the second day of his historic visit to Iraq, defending “freedom of conscience” and “religious freedom” and praying for “peace” and “unity”. In the Middle East, “especially in Syria.”
“Hostility, extremism and violence (…) are betrayals of religion. And we, the faithful, cannot remain silent when terrorism abuses religion. “On the contrary, we are the ones who should clearly dispel the misunderstandings,” the pope told Muslims, Yazidis, Zoroastrians and Savai officials during a universal prayer in Ur, Abraham's birthplace, according to tradition.
Pope Francis also called for “freedom of conscience and religious freedom to be recognized and respected everywhere.” “They are fundamental rights because they make man free to look at the Uranus for which he was created,” he added.
We must “walk from conflict to unity” in “the whole of the Middle East” and “especially in martyrdom Syria,” Pope Francis said.
“Peace requires neither winners nor losers, but brothers and sisters who, despite a lack of understanding and the traumas of the past, will walk from conflict to unity,” he said.
“Let us ask for it in prayer for the whole Middle East, I think especially of neighboring, martyred Syria,” he added.
Meeting with the top Shiite leader
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the religious leader of the majority of Iraq's Shiites and the world, told Pope Francis today that Iraqi Christians must “live in peace and security” and enjoy “all constitutional rights.”
With this religious summit, one of the most important in history, as the French Agency points out, the Argentine pope wanted to reach out to Shiite Islam, but also to support the cause of the Christians of Iraq – they make up 1% of its population. of the Muslim country – who emphasize that they are regularly victims of discrimination.
It is the first time in history that the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics has talked to the Grand Ayatollah of Najaf.
However, from this summit, only a photo of the two men and, above all, an announcement from the office of the Grand Ayatollah were published.
90-year-old Sistani does not appear in public. He answers in writing the questions addressed to him and his sermons are read every Friday by his representatives.
This time, however, he issued a statement thanking Pope Francis for coming to Najaf.
The Grand Ayatollah assured the Pope that “he is very careful that Christian citizens live like all Iraqis in peace and security, enjoying all their constitutional rights,” the statement said.
After his 55-minute meeting with Sistani, Francis headed to the ruins of ancient Ur in southern Iraq, which is considered the birthplace of Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He is going to give a speech at an interfaith meeting.
After returning to Baghdad, the pope is expected to officiate at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph.
A historical journey
Pope Francis met with Sistani on the second day of his historic tour of Iraq, in the humble home he has been renting for decades in a narrow alley in the holy Shiite city of Najaf. Their meeting took place behind closed doors.
Sistani, an ascetic priest who rarely appears in public, has enormous influence in politics. His decrees sent Iraqis to the polls for the first free elections in 2005, rallied hundreds of thousands to fight Islamic State in 2014, and overthrew an Iraqi government under pressure over mass protests in 2019.
90-year-old Sistani rarely meets and has refused to talk to current and former Iraqi prime ministers, according to officials close to him. Sistani agreed to meet with the pope on the condition that no Iraqi officials be present, a source in the Iraqi president's office said.
The 84-year-old Pope Francis embarked on Friday, the most dangerous trip he has ever made abroad, arriving by air in Iraq amid the strictest security measures ever taken by a papal visit to appeal to its leaders and people. to end violence and religious strife.