Pope Francis is visiting Iraq in historic trip to meet with Ayatollah Sistani. The pilgrimage to historic Babylon has been a dream of former popes. The significance of this action is a profound statement about the importance of tolerance and dialogue in a turbulent region. The meeting is a private affair in the modest home of the ayatollah in Najaf, without the pomp, protocol and entourage normally associated with a visiting head of state. The Shia Islamic world is divided between a mainstream, Iraq-based school of Islam that believes there should be a separation of church and state and a revolutionary, Iran-based school that believes in theocracy. the pope’s meeting with Sistani has focused local and international media attention on the peaceful, tolerant voices in the region.
Francis’ visit to churches in Baghdad targeted by Islamist terrorists and his visit to Mosul in the north send a reassuring message to these indigenous communities about their importance. The pope’s visit is a message of peace from the world to Iraq. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi welcomed Francis at Baghdad International Airport. He was greeted with fanfare as he stepped onto the red carpet, and then by a choir as he entered the airport. Crowds of people waved Iraqi and Vatican flags. Officials insist social distancing measures will be in place at all events.