TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – The head of the Roman Catholic Church held closed-door talks with Iraq’s prominent Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on the second day of his visit to the Arab country.

– World news –

The meeting took place at Ayatollah Sistani’s residence in the holy city of Najaf on Saturday morning.

The office of Ayatollah Sistani said in a statement that he highlighted challenges facing mankind and stressed the role of belief in God and commitment to high moral values ​​in overcoming them.

 

Ayatollah Sistani cited injustice, oppression, poverty, religious persecution, repression of fundamental freedoms, wars, violence, economic siege and displacement of many people in the region, especially the Palestinians in the occupied territories as some of the major problems which afflict the world.

The cleric touched on the role which religious and spiritual leaders can play in tackling some of these problems.

Ayatollah Sistani said religious leaders have to encourage parties involved in conflicts, particularly the world powers, to give primacy to rationality over confrontation.

He also stressed the importance of efforts to strengthen peaceful coexistence and solidarity based on mutual respect among the followers of different religions and intellectual groups.

Ayatollah Sistani emphasized that the Christian citizens of Iraq, like all other Iraqis, should live in security and peace and enjoy their fundamental rights.

He referred to the role played by the religious authority in protecting Christians and all those who have suffered from the criminal acts of terrorists over the past years.

After the one-hour meeting, Pope Francis travelled to the Iraqi city of Ur, which is believed to be the birthplace of Prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him).

The pontiff arrived in Iraq on Friday for a three-day trip amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to Ayatollah Sistani, Pope Francis has so far met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih.

Iraq’s Christian community has seen its numbers drop from nearly 1.5 million to about 250,000, less than 1% of the population over the last two decades.

Iraqi Christians fled the country to escape the chaos and violence that ensued the US invasion in 2003.

Tens of thousands were also displaced when the Daesh terrorist group overran vast swathes in northern Iraq in 2014, launching crackdown on the country’s minorities.

The Takfiri terrorist group was vanquished in December 2017 after a three-year anti-terror military campaign, which also had the support of neighboring Iran.

Daesh’s remnants, though, keep staging sporadic attacks across Iraq, attempting to regroup and unleash a new era of violence.

The terrorist group has intensified its deadly attacks in Iraq since January 2020, when the United States assassinated legendary Iranian anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi trenchmate Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis near Baghdad International Airport.