Why is the meeting between Francis and Ayatollah Sistani so significant?

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Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia Muslim community, which makes up over 60% of the country’s population.

He is a key figure in the dialogue between Iran and Iraq’s Muslim population. His influence could help minority groups throughout the country, which is why Christians celebrate his meeting with the pope. 

Spokesperson, Chaldean Catholic Church
“Some said that they will sign the document on Human Fraternity that the pope wrote with the imam of al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi. But even if they don’t, and it’s limited to a private meeting between them, it will be a great occasion to foster the coexistence between Christians and Muslims.”

Mosul Eye
“We need to create a new understanding between faiths. There is no room for conflict. We saw what happened to religious minorities in Iraq, and the only way [forward] is to open the door between Islam and Christianity for a sustainable long-term dialogue.”

Ali al-Sistani condemned ISIS in 2014. His position was key in bringing about the Islamic State’s downfall. The moment revealed the extent of his moral influence in the Islamic world and opened the door for dialogue. 

Mosul Eye
“A dialogue based on mutual understanding. A dialogue that aims to establish a connection between people regardless of their religion, because future struggle and challenges will be on our hands if we don't act as a united group of people that can work and live together.”

The meeting between the pope and Ali al-Sistani is going forward as planned despite the dual threats presented by the pandemic and terrorism. It is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and last 30 minutes.

Their meeting will be held at the Grand Ayatollah’s home, a modest residence located in the city of Najaf—home to the burial site of Muhammad’s son-in-law, a central figure for Shia Muslims whose tomb has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Muslims around the world. 

Javier Romero

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