BAGHDAD (AP) — Pope Francis will visit this weekend a preeminent Shiite Muslim cleric in Iraq to make history with a message of coexistence.
The 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is revered by many Shiites worldwide and his words holds powerful influence in Iraq and beyond.
The pontiff and ayatollah will meet on Saturday in al-Sistani’s modest home in the Iraqi city of Najaf.
Iraq’s dwindling Christian population hopes a show of support from the cleric will help ensure their place in the country.
Iran feels the meeting’s repercussions as well, since its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is a rival of al-Sistani for influence among Shiites.