In a historic meeting, Pope Francis on Saturday sat down with Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a revered figure in the country.
Al-Sistani doesn't often appear in public, but when he does, his words have reverberated across Iraq, The Associated Press notes. So there's a sense that his statement following a "very positive" conservation with Francis calling on Iraq's religious authorities to help protect the country's Christian minority, who he said "should live like all Iraqis, in security and peace with full constitutional rights," could go a long way. Francis, who traveled to Iraq to show support for its dwindling Christian community, thanked al-Sistani for raising "his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted."
When Francis arrived at al-Sistani's home, the cleric reportedly stood to greet the pope. Al-Sistani reportedly normally remains seated for visitors, so the gesture appears to be significant.
Today, two of the world's most powerful men, Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sistani, met in Najaf.
Sistani, who is reclusive, rarely leaves home, and stays seated during meetings, did something he's rarely done.
He stood up to greet Pope Francis at the door.
The symbolism is huge. pic.twitter.com/yeHaewvK5m
— Muhammad Lila (@MuhammadLila) March 6, 2021
In response to the interfaith meeting between the two religious leaders, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced that March 6 is now a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistance in Iraq. Read more at The Associated Press.