The meeting was rare, given that the ayatollah rarely meets with world leaders. Details for the meeting were negotiated between al-Sistani’s office and the Vatican for months, according to Al Jazeera.
After the meeting, al-Sistani’s office released a statement saying the ayatollah “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,” Al Jazeera reported.
The Vatican said Francis thanked al-Sistani and the Shia community for having “raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted,” adding that the ayatollah’s message affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.”
According to The Associated Press, Francis arrived early Saturday morning at Rasool Street, which culminates at the Imam Ali Shrine. He then walked to the ayatollah’s home, which he has rented for decades
The pontiff was welcomed outside by a group of Iraqis in traditional clothes. Al-Sistani emerged roughly an hour later, the AP reported.
A religious official in Naja told the news outlet that the ayatollah stood to greet Francis at the door of his room, which is a rare honor. After the meeting, the pope arrived in the city of Ur for an interfaith meeting.
“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters,” Francis said, according to the AP. “Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion.”