ROME – On Saturday Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi announced a day of tolerance and coexistence in honor of Pope Francis’s historic meeting with top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani earlier that morning.

In a March 6 tweet, sent just hours after the pope and al-Sistani met, Al-Kadhimi said, “In celebration of the historic meeting in Najaf between Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani and Pope Francis, and the historic inter-religious meeting in the ancient city of Ur, we declare March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Co-existence in Iraq.”


It was not immediately clear whether March 6 will be a temporary or annual commemoration.

Pope Francis met Saturday with al-Sistani, 90, for a private conversation in Najaf, about an hour’s flight from Baghdad, during his historic March 5-8 visit to Iraq.

The trip marks not only the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, but the meeting with al-Sistani, widely considered to be the most authoritative leader in Shia Islam, was also the first time that the head of the Catholic Church had met with the head of the Shiites.

According to the Vatican, during their 45-minute conversation Pope Francis stressed the importance of collaboration between the two religious traditions and praised al-Sistani’s previous advocacy for persecuted communities.

A separate statement from al-Sistani’s office said the conversation touched on a variety of topics, including current challenges that humanity faces, God’s role in the world, and the need to commit to a higher set of values in order to solve problems.

Problems such as injustice, oppression, poverty, religious persecution, the suppression of basic freedoms, an absence of social justice, war and violence, mass internal displacement, and Iraq’s struggling economy were all topics discussed by al-Sistani, according to the statement from his office.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen