Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a preeminent Shiite figure, are scheduled to meet on Saturday for 40 minutes, in the cleric’s modest home in Najaf. Al-Sistani has not left his home Najaf in years and he rarely receives foreign dignitaries. He does not make public appearances and his sermons are delivered through his representatives.
The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with the cleric pledging human fraternity, just as he did with Sunni Islam’s influential grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, based in Egypt. The signature was one of the priorities on the Pope’s agenda, but eventually, the Shitte officials in Najaf told Associated Press that Al-Sistani will not be signing any document and that he will rather issue a verbal statement.
Al-Sistani’s son, Mohammad Ridha, will greet Francis at the entrance, and Al-Sistani, who usually remains seated for visitors will stand up for Pope Francis. The Pope will present some bound copies of his writings to the Cleric, including his latest one “Brothers All”.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis described the long-awaited meeting as another step forward in fraternity together with other religious leaders in the land of Abraham. Previously, in 2000, the then leader of the Catholic Church Pope John Paul had to cancel a planned trip to Iraq after negotiations broke down with the government of then-leader Saddam Hussein.