Citing a religious official in Najaf, the Associated Press reported that al-Sistani broke with his custom of staying seated to receive visitors, rising to greet Francis at the door of the room where he holds private conversations with guests. The pope reportedly removed his shoes before entering the room.
A statement afterward from al-Sistani’s office said that the cleric affirmed that the country’s Christian citizens should, like all Iraqis, be able to live in security and peace, freely exercising their constitutional rights.
After the meeting -- which marked a milestone in relations between the Catholic Church and Shiite Islam -- the pope traveled to the Plain of Ur, where he took part in an interreligious gathering.
Speaking at the ancient site, believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, the pope emphasized the shared heritage of Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters,” he said March 6.
“Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion. We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion; indeed, we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings.”