"Sowing fraternity, an urgent need of our time". A message from Pope Francis to Al Sistani at the Catholics and Shiites Conference in Iraq

The international conference "Catholics and Shiites facing the future" is taking place in Iraq, in Najaf, a holy city for the Shiites, where the shrine of Imam Ali is located. The conference was organised by the Community of Sant'Egidio together with the Al-Khoei Institute, on the occasion of the 2nd anniversary of Pope Francis' visit to Iraq. In his opening speech, Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, explained that "dialogue between religions is not a sign of weakness but a manifestation of God's dialogue with humanity: fraternity is a challenge for all humanity". He then announced a message from the Pope to Al Sistani.

Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio, recalling the historic meeting between Francis and the Grand Ayatollah two years ago in Najaf, emphasised the importance of listening "to get out of our own prejudices and categories" with which we approach life and the future: "The path of friendship between Catholics and Shiites, which culminated in the meeting in Najaf, was prepared by various moments of constructive communication, which strengthened knowledge, trust, but also sympathy. Indeed, fraternity grows in deep-rooted convictions, common practices, but also friendship and confidence between people. It has been built in the meetings in Rome, in the fraternity between Christians and Muslims in Iraq, particularly by the Chaldean Church or the Shia community, in the meetings in many cities of the world made in the spirit of Assisi, year after year. This encourages us to go forward. Every man and woman is an actor in a fraternity, which he or she can build with bare hands, with his or her own strength and word, his or her own capacity to love. Believers, even in the diversity of traditions and theologies, represent a people that sows fraternity and makes it grow".

On the first day of the conference, dedicated to "fraternity" and to "prayer, poor people and peace", Al-Ishkawari, professor at the High Shiite Seminary in Najaf, pointed out that the goal "is not to unite religions into one, but to work together for good". Shahid Al-Baghdadi, Directorate Generale of the Imam Ali Shrine, expressed the hope that "the meeting would be part of a larger project whereby wise men and women, Christians and Muslims, could build an idea of fraternity that would circulate through the gardens of the world". "Since 2015," recalled the Secretary General of the Al-Khoei Institute, Jawad Al-Kohei, "we have been trying, with the friends of Sant'Egidio, to realise an intellectual dialogue between Catholics and Shiites, keeping within our tradition, yet looking for shared aspects in ethical values and mutual respect".

 "A believing soul," stressed the Patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphaël Sako, "must never make others suffer. We must renew our mentality to build a future where no one is marginalised for reasons of faith".

 Najaf, 8 March 2023