Addressing the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani as his “dear brother”, Pope Francis noted that it is incumbent on religious leaders of all faiths to encourage those with responsibilities in civil society to promote political actions that protect the fundamental rights of each person and promote fraternity and mutual acceptance, as a concrete response to today’s challenges.
In a letter to the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites, the Pope recalled their meeting two years ago in Najaf describing it as “a milestone on the path of interreligious dialogue and understanding between peoples.”
The occasion was provided by a conference that took place in Najaf entitled “Catholics and Shiites facing the future. On the occasion of the 2nd anniversary of Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq.” The event, organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Al_Khoei Institute of Najaf, was attended by a delegation that included Sant’Egidio members as well as Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Cardinals Ayuso, Coutts and Louis Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad.
In the letter, published on Tuesday by the Holy See Press Office, the Pope commended the Grand Ayatollah for “his commitment to those who suffered persecution, preserving the sacredness of life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.”
Collaboration and friendship between believers
“Collaboration and friendship between believers of different religions are indispensable, in order to cultivate not only mutual esteem but above all that concord that contributes to the good of humanity, as the recent history of Iraq teaches us,” the Pope said.
He expressed his belief that faith-based communities must be “a privileged place of communion and a symbol of peaceful coexistence, in which we invoke the Creator of all, for a future of unity on earth.”
Freedom of religion and thought a source of harmony
We are both convinced – Pope Francis wrote to Ayatollah al-Sistani – that “respect for the dignity and rights of every person and every community, especially freedom of religion, thought and expression, is a source of personal and social serenity and harmony between peoples.”
Thus he said, it is the duty of religious leaders, “to encourage those with responsibilities in civil society to work to affirm a culture based on justice and peace, promoting political actions that protect the fundamental rights of each person.”
Fraternity and mutual acceptance
“It is essential that the human family rediscover a sense of fraternity and mutual acceptance, as a concrete response to today’s challenges,” the Pope continued.
To this end, he said quoting from the Document on Human Fraternity, “men and women of different confessions, walking together towards God are called to meet in the enormous space of common spiritual, human and social values, and invest this in the spread of the highest moral virtues, urged by religions”.
Pope Francis concluded expressing his hope that together, Christians and Muslims, may always be “witnesses of truth, love and hope, in a world scarred by numerous conflicts and therefore in need of compassion and healing.”