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Iraqi PM declares national day of tolerance in honor of papal meeting with top Shiite cleric

CNA_6042289c3ac39_203963.jpg Pope Francis with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at Baghdad International Airport, March 5, 2021. Credit: Vatican Media.

Iraq’s prime minister on Saturday declared March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in honor of Pope Francis’ landmark meeting with the country’s top Shiite cleric. 

Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi made the announcement via Twitter on March 6 after the meeting between the pope and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

“In celebration of the historic meeting in Najaf between Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Pope Francis, and the historic interreligious meeting in the ancient city of Ur, we declare March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in Iraq,” he wrote.

The pope visited the 90-year-old al-Sistani at his modest home in Najaf, the third holiest city for Shiite Muslims after Mecca and Medina.

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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.”

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