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In a historic move, Pope Francis visits Iraq to meet with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani  

Middle EastIn a historic move, Pope Francis visits Iraq to meet with Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani  

On Saturday, Pope Francis, (84) head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State met with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, (90), in the holy city of Najaf.  During this visit, Pope Francis and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric powerfully communicated a message of the urgent need for peaceful coexistence Saturday, admonishing Muslims to accept Iraq’s persecuted Christian minority.

The two met early Saturday morning, the Pope in a convoy under heavy security in a bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz went down Rasool Street to reach the most revered shrine in Shiite Islam, the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine.  They met in Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s modest home, which he has rented for decades.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s message of peace asserted “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people”.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also stated that Islamic religious authorities have a role in protecting Iraq’s Christians and that they should live in peace and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis.

According to the Vatican, they said Pope Francis thanked Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for having”raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the brutal attacks in Iraq in recent times on the Christian minorities.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is highly revered, very senior, and has in great dimensions influenced the Shiite-majority Iraqi religious and social views, not only in Iraq but Shiites over the globe

Iraqis saluted the meeting of two respected faith leaders.

“We welcome the pope’s visit to Iraq and especially to the holy city of Najaf and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani,” said Najaf resident Haidar Al-Ilyawi. “It is a historic visit and hope it will be good for Iraq and the Iraqi people.”

A religious official who does not want to be named as he was not authorized to brief the media said, it was a “very positive” meeting that lasted a total of 40 minutes.

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