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Iraq’s top Shiite cleric calls for protection of country’s Christian minority after historic meeting with Pope Francis

In a historic meeting, Pope Francis on Saturday sat down with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a revered figure in the country.

Al-Sistani doesn’t often appear in public, but when he does, his words have reverberated across Iraq, The Associated Press notes. So there’s a sense that his statement following a “very positive” conversation with Francis calling on Iraq’s religious authorities to help protect the country’s Christian minority, who he said “should live like all Iraqis, in security and peace with full constitutional rights,” could go a long way. Francis, who traveled to Iraq to show support for its dwindling Christian community, thanked al-Sistani for raising “his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted.”

When Francis arrived at al-Sistani’s home, the cleric reportedly stood to greet the pope. Al-Sistani reportedly normally remains seated for visitors, so the gesture appears to be significant.

In response to the interfaith meeting between the two religious leaders, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced that March 6 is now a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistance in Iraq. Read more at The Associated Press.

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