March 8, 2021
WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST
Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.
HOPE IN IRAQ
Many of this blog’s readers are aware that we knew Jorge Mario Bergoglio before the Holy Father became Pope Francis. From out of this relationship, his Holiness ask me to be his Apostolic Representative for Christian Unity, a role I have served in ever since. I know his devotion in the quest for world-wide unity. Consequently, I closely follow what happens in the Vatican. The Pope’s historic trip to Iraq was certainly at the top of the list of highly significant acts.
Here’s some of what occurred in Iraq.
Pope Francis met Saturday with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most senior clerics in Shiite Islam, in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf to deliver a joint message of peaceful coexistence, urging Muslims to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority. After his historic meeting with Pope Francis on Saturday, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric affirmed that religious authorities have a role in protecting Iraq’s Christians and said they should live in peace and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis. Pope Francis thanked Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the Shiite people for having “raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history. He said al-Sistani’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.” The Vatican said the historic visit was a chance for Francis to emphasize the need for collaboration and friendship between different religious communities.
In a statement issued by his office after the meeting, al-Sistani affirmed that Christians should “live like all Iraqis, in security and peace and with full constitutional rights.” He pointed out the “role that the religious authority plays in protecting them, and others who have also suffered injustice and harm in the events of past years.”
For Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority, a show of solidarity from al-Sistani could help secure their place in Iraq after years of displacement and, they hope, ease intimidation from Shiite militiamen against their community.
The historic meeting in al-Sistani’s humble home was months in the making, with every detail painstakingly discussed and negotiated between the ayatollah’s office and the Vatican.
Al-Sistani wished Francis and the followers of the Catholic Church happiness, and thanked him for taking the trouble to visit him in Najaf, the statement said. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and his opinions on religious and other matters are sought by Shiites worldwide.
While such symbolic gestures for peace can have long range consequences. Perhaps, no where in the world is reconciliation needed more than in the Middle East. The Pope’s visit while surrounded by danger was a sweeping gesture for peace.
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by Frank Sisson (Author), Robert L. Wise (Author)
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