Najaf (AsiaNews) - Mgr Giorgio Lingua, apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, gave ayatollah Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, Iraq's most prominent Shia leader, a copy of the apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente. The meeting between the high ranking Vatican diplomat and the Muslim religious leader took place yesterday morning in the Shia holy city of Najaf. Shia Muslims are a majority in Iraq, a country torn by violent sectarian violence that led to the exodus of half of the Christian community present in 2003, when the United States invaded, causing the fall of the then Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.
News of the presentation of Benedict XVI's post-synodal exhortation was posted on Baghdadhope, which reproduced the statement of the apostolic nuncio to Iraq, who said "that the aim of his visit to Najaf was to visit Christian sites discovered in this city."
The Shia religious leader "granted us a courtesy visit" during which "I gave him the exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente and we talked about the recent papal visit to Lebanon, which had significant results from the perspective of interfaith dialogue."
The delegation led by the apostolic nuncio included Armenian Catholic Bishop Emmanuel Dabbaghian and Raad Kachachi, head of the government bureau for Christians and other religions.
Ayatollah al-Sistani reminded the young Christians and Muslims present at the meeting that Islam and Christianity can live together "without hatred, respecting the beliefs of each other" to "build together a free and humane society."
The two delegations also stressed the fact that the Christian minority is an integral, and ancient, component of Iraqi society and culture.
Among the sites visited in Najaf, the delegation of bishops and priests saw Al-Haidariyah Library, the Shrine of Imam Ali, the third most sacred site for Shias after Makkah and Madinah, and the al-Hira archeological site.