Pope hails dialogue ahead of meeting with Shia cleric in Iraq

Pope Francis leads his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Oct. 28, 2020. (CNS)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Pope Francis hailed the power of intra-dialogue as the Vatican confirmed he would meet Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani during his visit to Iraq in March.

The forthcoming trip will include stops in Baghdad, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh, the Vatican said in the official itinerary of Francis’ March 5-8 visit to Iraq.

The Vatican said Francis would make a “courtesy visit” to the 90-year-old Sistani in Najaf on March 6, AFP reported.

Francis’ main reason for making the first-ever papal trip to Iraq is to encourage the country’s Christians, AP said. The pope had intended to visit Iraq in 2014, as did St. John Paul II in 2000, but both had to call off their trips due to security concerns.

On his first day in Baghdad, Francis will meet with Catholic priests and nuns in the Our Lady of Salvation Church, the site of a 2010 massacre that killed 58 people and was claimed by the al-Qaida group in Iraq, AP said.

The next day, he will host an interfaith meeting in the ancient day of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, after his meeting with Sistani in Najaf.

Francis will head to the Kurdistan Region on his last day trip in Iraq. He will visit Mosul and Qaraqosh in the Nineveh plains from the Region.

He plans to celebrate Masses at Baghdad in a cathedral that was the site of a 2010 bloody attack and in a stadium in Erbil, AFP said.

Inter-religious dialogue “can become an opportunity for religious leaders and the followers of different confessions, and can support the responsible efforts of political leaders to promote the common good”, AFP quoted Francis as saying.

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