Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has declared March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in Iraq after Pope Francis' meeting with Iraq's top Shiite cleric and a landmark inter-religious gathering.
Kadhimi announced the declaration in a tweet, saying it was “in celebration" of the pontiff's two events Saturday, which the PM called “historic.”
The central message of Francis' weekend visit to Iraq has been a call for the country to accept its diversity and ensure minorities equal rights. The pope hopes to ensure the place of Iraq's Christian population, dwindling under years of violence and discrimination.
Francis met Saturday with top Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf and attended an inter-religious gathering in the Plains of Ur, traditional birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
He told the gathering: “This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbor.”
With a magnificent ziggurat nearby, Francis told the faith leaders that it was fitting that they come together in Ur, “back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions” to pray together for peace as children of Abraham.
He said: “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. Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion.”
He said there could never be peace as long as Iraqis viewed people of different faiths as the “other.”
He said: “Peace does not demand winners or losers, but rather brothers and sisters who, for all the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity.”