Who divided the world into religions

The interreligious dialogue with Islam and appeals for a joint commitment to peace were the focus of the second day of Pope Francis' trip to Iraq.

On Saturday morning, Pope Francis first met the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for a private conversation in the city of Najaf. He later led an interfaith peace meeting in Ur, southern Iraq.

Ur is considered to be the home of the biblical figure Abraham, whom Jews, Christians and Muslims alike refer to as the progenitor. In the evening, Francis celebrated a mass in Baghdad's Chaldean cathedral - as the first Roman head of the church in the East Syrian rite.

Exchange with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani

According to the Vatican, during the 45-minute conversation with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani in the city of Najaf, which is holy for Shiites, the Pope emphasized the importance of interreligious dialogue for the entire Middle East. The Argentine also thanked the 90-year-old for his stabilizing role in recent years.

For his part, the spiritual leader of the Shiites in Iraq stressed the need for peaceful coexistence between religions. The Christians in Iraq must be able to live in security and with all civil rights in the country, he told Francis, according to his office. Al-Sistani therefore also addressed the fate of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. The religious leaders are called upon to appeal in particular to the great powers to enable all peoples of the region to live in freedom and dignity.

Many observers see the Pope's meeting with the respected Grand Ayatollah as an important bridge between the Catholic Church and Shiite Islam. On the occasion of the meeting, Iraq is introducing a national "Day of Tolerance and Coexistence". Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kasimi announced that this should be celebrated on March 6th and commemorate the "historic meeting" of the Pope with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani.

Common roots of Jews, Christians and Muslims

When meeting representatives of different religions in the ancient city of Ur, Francis emphasized the common roots of Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to his words, true religiosity means: "To worship God and love your neighbor." Hostility, extremism and violence, on the other hand, are "betrayals of religion". In the square in front of the home of the father Abraham, it seems "as if we are going to return home," said the Pope.

In today's world, which often paints a distorted picture of God, believers of all religions are called to testify to his goodness. This is done by making them visible through "brotherhood". "God is merciful and the greatest insult and blasphemy is to desecrate one's name by hating one's brother or sister," said Francis.

Believers should not remain silent when terrorism abuses religion. Following the speech, the "Sons and Daughters of Abraham" present at the ceremony said an interfaith prayer.

Patriarch Sako: Pope's visit is a sign of hope

At Mass in Baghdad, Francis encouraged the hard-tested Christian minority in Iraq to trust in the future. Even if the love of Christ appears weak in the eyes of the world, it will win in the end, he said in the Chaldean Cathedral in front of around 500 participants. The Christian martyrs in Iraq have suffered "insults, abuse and persecution" because of their beliefs. But their love is stronger than sin.

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael I. Sako praised the Pope's visit as a sign of hope "for a more humane, fraternal, united and peaceful world". - Of the once around 1.5 million Christians, only a few hundreds of thousands still live in the country after war and terrorism.

Francis had arrived in Iraq on Friday for the four-day visit. It takes place under precarious security and pandemic conditions. On Sunday the Pope will travel to the Kurdish autonomous region in the north. Among other things, he wants to commemorate the victims of the war and violence by the terrorist militia "Islamic State" in Mosul.

By Christoph Schmidt and Alexander Pitz