Imam Sayyid Kashmiri, the grand ayatollah’s representative in North America, said the message of the meeting was that interreligious violence must cease, and religious leaders have an important role to play in making that happen.
"[The meeting] gave a strong message not only for peace but for the future of Iraq," Imam Kashmiri said during the seminar.
"The peace since this visit until now, we have seen that there is a big change and moving forward we see more peace in Iraq," adding that he also has seen many Christians returning.
As recently as 2003, there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, but today there are fewer than a quarter of a million, as many have emigrated, fleeing persecution and violence. Many who have returned have faced continuing harassment and unemployment.
Imam Kashmiri reiterated that religious scholars and leaders have a role to play in advocating for a long-term plan to help Christians to return. Christians wanting to return to their hometowns "have nothing,” he said, and they need support from the Iraqi government, and from the international community.
"Keeping this mosaic [of faith and culture] in Iraq is highly important...we believe strongly that Iraq must keep the diversity of people and we shouldn't give any opportunity to our enemies to filter Iraq with one religion or one school of thought," Kashmiri said.
Educating the next generation in the values of peace and tolerance is important for this "investment" in the Pope-ayatollah meeting, he noted.
"Enough is enough. We have to stop war wherever it may be...religious leaders have the power to bring some influence on political leaders, to bring the peace again to this world.”
Cardinal Cupich agreed, saying that, "Religious leaders have a particular responsibility to step forward, because religions can have their extremists, religions can be manipulated by people.” He added that religious leaders have a responsibility to not allow "extremists to dominate the discussion."
Cardinal Louis Rafael Sako, the leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, recently gave a speech in Budapest at the International Eucharistic Congress, in which the cardinal said he has observed the ways that the pope’s trip, and his dialogue with Muslim leaders, already has changed the atmosphere in Iraq.
“The pope touched the hearts of all Iraqis by his messages, especially Muslims. And now, something has changed in the streets, in the mass, the population,” he commented.
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“Christians are proud of that and now they are very appreciated also,” he said.