Shafaq News/ Pope Francis is to meet top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq in March, a senior Catholic cleric told AFP on Thursday.
Louis Sako, patriarch of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church, said it would be a "private visit" between the two religious figures "without formalities."
Sako said he hoped the two figures would sign the document on "human fraternity for world peace," an inter-religious text condemning extremism that Pope Francis signed with the leading Sunni cleric, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, in 2019.
In December 2020, The Vatican announces that Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Journey to Iraq on 5-8 March 2021, visiting Baghdad, the plain of Ur, Mosul, and Qaraqosh.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, announced the news, adding that the Pope had accepted the invitation of the Republic of Iraq and the local Catholic Church.
This will be the first-ever visit by a pope to Iraq.
Pope Francis has long expressed his desire to visit Iraq.
Christians’ presence in Iraq, however, has been drastically diminished in the past two decades.
In 2003, before a US-led coalition invaded to depose Saddam Hussein, there were around 1 to 1.4 million Christians in the country.
A drawn-out war and the 2014-2017 occupation of the Plain of Nineveh by the so-called Islamic State reduced their number to between 300 and 400 thousand.