As the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the Shi’a in Iraq, ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, come Saturday, there was a historic day in the Shi’ite shrine of Najaf. The two called for peaceful coexistence in a country torn by sectarian violence.

The meeting between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the highest spiritual leader for millions of Shia Muslims was deeply symbolic. For more than a thousand years, the two faiths have been in regular violent conflict with each other.

Moreover, Iraq is the home of a small Christian minority, which has been suffering attacks by Shiite militias since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Sunni Movement Islamic State, which took over large parts of Iraq, also persecuted Christians. Less than 250,000 Christian Iraqis still live in Iraq, according to church leaders.

Pope Francis believes that Iraqi Christians should be treated as citizens, with the same rights and obligations as other Iraqis. Al Sistani agrees with him, he stated afterwards in a statement.

The Shia leader also made an appeal to all religious authorities in the world; he urged the conduct of worldly governments to be monitored and said that wisdom and common sense must prevail over warfare.

Pope Francis came up with a similar statement. “He underlined the importance of cooperation and friendship between faith communities so that, by fostering mutual respect and dialogue, we can contribute to the well-being of Iraq and the region,” said the Vatican.

The two spiritual leaders spoke for about fifty minutes, a little longer than planned.

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