Shiite leader: the meeting between the pope and al-Sistani 'historic moment', a message of 'tolerance'

Rumours indicate a stop on March 6 in Najaf, for a meeting between Francis and the highest local Shiite authority. Card Sako: preparations for the trip continue "with enthusiasm" to overcome violence, a harbinger of "hatred and pain". Jawad al-Khoei: the two religious leaders are very similar in terms of "piety and humility". An important step "for those who work for peace in the region".

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - “As a Shia Muslim, I do not consider Pope Francis to be just an authority for Catholic Christians but for all humanity. And the same is true for Grand Ayatollah Sistani.” Shiite Islam and Catholicism "share theological similarities when it comes to the use of intellect and reasoning, but moreover, Ayatollah Sistani and Pope Francis also share similar personalities as individuals when it comes to their piety and humility”. This is what Iraqi Shiite religious leader Sayyed Jawad Mohammed Taqi Al-Khoei, general secretary of the Al-Khoei Institute and co-founder of the Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue (ICID) underlines to AsiaNews, commenting on the news of the private meeting between al -Sistani and the Pope.

A personal encounter - advocated by the Chaldean patriarch himself in an interview with AsiaNews following the announcement of the apostolic journey to Iraq - should take place (pending official confirmation of the Vatican) on March 6 in private form in al-Sistani’s residence in Najaf.

The Vatican and Najaf Hawza (the Najaf seminary, the most important Shiite centre in the city) "have had good relations for some time" and "we have been partners in various peace initiatives in the past" underlines Jawad al-Khoei.

"However - he adds - the meeting between the heads of these two institutions will be a historic moment and it sends a powerful message for supporting tolerance and moderation. In addition, it will give support to peacemakers across the region who are dealing with the tragedy of conflict and violence."

The latest of these incidents occurred last week, with the Islamic State returning to strike in Baghdad, causing over 30 deaths and 110 injuries. Card Louis Raphael Sako told AsiaNews “the attack has not affected the climate of expectation, joy and enthusiasm for the Pope's visit. The Iraqi Church and the government - he adds - are preparing and continuing to work together for this historic event, we move forward with joy because we want to overcome this pain and hatred once and for all.”

"Ayatollah al-Sistani - recalls Jawad al-Khoei - played a key role in defeating the forces of evil and terrorism in Iraq with his historic fatwa in June 2014.” He concludes “This meeting will also be a recognition of that effort, and the sacrifices that thousands of Iraqis have made in the war against ISIS."