Pope Francis met this Saturday in the holy city of Najaf with Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani, leader of the Chii community in Iraq. A historic meeting that broadens the perimeter of Francis's long work to build bridges with Islam and to make a common front against extremism. The meeting, behind closed doors and defined as a cordial visit, completes the circle that the Pope began to draw with the brotherhood agreement signed in 2019 with the great imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed al Tayeb, leader of the Sunni branch of Islam.
The official program described the encounter with Al Sistani, 90, as a courtesy meeting. But its magnitude transcended the merely formal. The posters in the streets of Najaf, with a photograph of each of the leaders who were to meet, synthesized the mission of the visit. "You are part of us and we are part of you." Sistani does not appear in public and receives hardly any visitors. Since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, he has become one of the country's leading figures. Also politically, especially in the conflict with the United States and the background of violence of some militias that have bombed international bases and that have announced a ceasefire during the Pope's visit. This is the case of the Blood Guardians, who launched 14 rockets at an international coalition base near Erbil airport on February 15.
The meeting, which lasted about 55 minutes, was not broadcast. The Pope could only be seen entering a humble home in a popular neighborhood in Najaf, surrounded by security forces. Francisco took off his shoes to enter the residence of the Shiite leader, respecting Islamic rules. Apparently, Al Sistani got up to receive him and accompany him to the armchairs where they sat with their interpreters, something completely unusual for him and which he did in recognition of the Pontiff. Born in Iran, the Grand Ayatollah was instrumental in 2014 through his fetuses to fight the Islamic State. But also in his role in convincing Iraqis to vote in 2005, right after the US-led military intervention and invasion.
The Vatican statement after the meeting indicates that the Pope “has thanked him and the Shiite community for their defense of the weakest and most persecuted in the face of violence and the great difficulties of recent years, reaffirming the sacredness of human life and human life. unity of the Iraqi people ”. The ayatollah, for his part, responded to the pope that Christians must "live in peace and security" and benefit from "all constitutional rights." A statement that more than satisfies one of the main purposes of the trip.
The Sistani, however, also set his own agenda in the conversation and, according to the statement from his office, made reference to the “injustices, economic sieges and displacement suffered by many peoples in the region, especially the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. ”, He pointed out in reference to the conflict with Israel. A sensitive issue, despite the fact that the Vatican recognizes Palestine as a state, due to the geopolitical ties it also has with Iran and the United States.
The Pope flew after the encounter to the Plain of Ur, a region in southern Mesopotamia, south of the Euphrates and Tigris basins. Here, next to the deserts that the Iraqi Army helicopters flew over to provide security for the event, the beginning of a story of union about 4,000 years ago would be located through the figure of Abraham, at the center of the origin of Islam, Judaism. and Christianity. Stepping on this foundational ground was an old wish of John Paul II, who wanted to make this trip in 1999, but was deterred at the moment of truth by the discomfort that it generated both to the United States and to the Saddam Hussein regime.
The Pope has decided to lead a religious revolution in the world based on fraternity between confessions and different spiritualities. Francisco has placed himself at the forefront of a league that seeks to reconstruct the different ways of approaching God and drawing the dotted line that unites them. It is the only way, he believes, to stop the violence and make a common front against the materialistic drift of the world. And that, they believe in the Vatican, will be one of its great legacies. “Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious spirit; they are betrayals of religion. And we believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion. Furthermore, it is up to us to resolve misunderstandings clearly. Let us not allow the light of Heaven to be clouded by clouds of hatred. The dark clouds of terrorism, war and violence hung over this country. All ethnic and religious communities suffered ”, he said.
Francisco criticized some extremist behavior on the part of the Iraqi population in recent years. But, like the day before, he also defended his sovereignty and criticized the role of the international community and some economic forces. “It is not worthy that, while we are all suffering from the pandemic crisis, and especially here where conflicts have caused so much misery, some avidly think of their personal benefit. There will be no peace without sharing and welcoming, without justice that ensures equity and promotion for all, starting with the weakest. There will be no peace without peoples reaching out to other peoples. There will be no peace as long as the others are them and not part of us. There will be no peace as long as the alliances are against someone, because the alliances of one against another only increase the divisions, "he said, also recalling the war in" the martyred "Syria.