By: Hossein Shariatmadari
The recent visit to Iraq of Pope Francis, although it was a fascinating piece of news for the world media, what made it more significant for many news outlets was the meeting of Chief of the Catholic sect of Christianity with Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Sistani, the Source of Emulation for most followers worldwide of the School Jurisprudence of the Prophet of Islam’s Ahl al-Bayt (Blessed Household), which took place Saturday at his Eminence’s house in the holy city of Najaf.
Religious and political circles around the world had thought that important and crucial issues would be raised at the meeting, since Ayatollah Sistani is one of the most prominent authorities of the Shi’a Muslim World, while Pope Francis is the Leader of the world’s Catholics.
Perhaps the greatest impact of the meeting on the Pope was the small and simple abode of Ayatollah Sistani, who as one of the leading Sources of Emulation for Shi’a Muslims wields authority and dignity from a modest house in Iraq, where the opulent and luxurious palaces of Saddam abound.
Imagine, with full security the Vatican Chief visits Iraq and meets Ayatollah Sistani in a country whose people were recently drenched in bloodshed and destruction by the US-created Takfiri terrorists with the full backing of the West, Israel, and the reactionary Arab regimes, until Ayatollah Sistani’s Fatwa for Jihad mobilized the dedicated Iraqi youth under the command of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani, Iraq’s Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and their fellow combatants, to decisively weed out the Daesh terrorists and deliver from their blood-soaked and morally corrupt claws the sacred soil of Iraq and its people, whether Shi’as, Sunni or Christians.
Moreover, Pope Francis visits Iraq as a guest of Ayatollah Sistani and the Iraqi people, and is received with honour and dignity, which the US not only did not show to General Qassem Soleimani, the honourable guest of the Iraqi people, but in a stealthy and unmanly manner spilled his innocent blood, along with that of his host, Abu Mahdi, who had played a key role in routing Takfiri terrorists.
Today, not only the Muslim people of Iraq owe their security to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the Hashd ash-Sha’bi, Martyr Soleimani, and Martyr Abu Mahdi, etc., but the Iraqi Christians also feel indebted to these figures and the self-sacrifice for the peace they enjoy and the survival of their churches.
Part of the statement released by Ayatollah Sistani’s office following the meeting with the Pope, states: "His Eminence emphasizes commitment to Christian citizens who, like all Iraqis, live in security, peace and in full accordance with their fundamental rights.”
The statement also focused on the role of the religious authorities in protecting the Christians and all those who went through oppression during the recent years, when terrorists had occupied large areas of several Iraqi provinces and indulged in criminal activities.
The recent meeting in holy Najaf brings to our mind the meeting of the Father of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini (RA), in Tehran on 29 November 1979, with Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, the emissary of Pope John Paul II – a passing reference to which is not without merit.
Imam Khomeini’s (RA) message to Pope John Paul II which focused on some interesting political realities and the fundamentals of the Christian faith, following the latter’s bid to mediate on the arrest of American spies at the so-called US embassy in Tehran, unfortunately went unanswered.
The Imam had asked the Pope: If Jesus (peace upon him) was among us today to witness the US hostility and crimes against Iran and the Iranian people, would he side with us or with the Americans?
Some passages of the Late Imam’s message are as follows:
"If Jesus the Messiah (peace upon him) were with us today, do the Pope and the other clergymen think he would side with (US president Jimmy) Carter and the deposed Pahlavi potentate by turning away from this oppressed nation?!
"Have the Pope and other Christian clergymen, as well as the leaders of all other religions, considered the possibility that if Jesus the Messiah came among us, would he side with the oppressed party or the party of oppressors?
"The basic rule is that I should speak according to the creed of the Messiah, and as per his lofty position. The exalted station of the Messiah warrants his judgement against the oppressor in order to prevent the oppressor from oppressing others. You, who are the clergy of the Messiah, and the nations which follow the Messiah, should adhere to the path of the Messiah. God forbid, do such nations believe that the Messiah would side with the oppressor against the oppressed?! I do not think a Christian would say such words.”
It is also worth mentioning that on the occasion of Christmas 1979, Imam Khomeini (RA) in his address to Christian clerics, cited some of the US crimes, saying: "Is Mr. Pope aware of these matters when he condemns us, or has he been misinformed? If he is aware of the facts, then woe upon us, woe upon Christianity, and woe upon the scholars of the Messiah; and if he does not know, then woe upon the Vatican!”
In view of these facts, the crimes of the US against the honourable people of Iraq are so widespread and so frequently mentioned that they cannot be counted. It is a list as long as the proverbial ode written on 70 tons of paper.
Could we now expect Pope Francis – after meeting Ayatollah Sistani and seeing that his principal heartfelt concern is the struggle against oppression, destruction, and the salvation of mankind from the arrogant, bloodthirsty and plundering powers – to answer the question of that Sage of the Age, Imam Khomeini (RA), left unanswered by Pope John Paul II some 42 years ago!.
In other words, Ayatollah Sistani (may God protect him) has posed the same question today, to which an appropriate answer is required.
If Jesus (peace upon him) were among us, would he be silent and indifferent towards the countless crimes committed by the United States of America and other western regimes which claim to follow the Messiah, and by his silence side with the US and other arrogant powers, or would he stand up for the defence and dignity of the oppressed nations?
Thus, in which direction is Pope Francis, as Leader of the world’s Catholic sect (of Christianity) headed? Has he taken the side of Jesus the Messiah, or ….?