Catholic-Shia conference aims to heal inter-religious divide

The meeting between Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani in 2021

 NAJAF, Iraq -  The 3rd International Catholic-Shia conference is taking place on Thursday in Najaf, organised by the Community of Sant'Egidio and the Al-Khoei Institute, aiming to further understanding between the two religions.

 The conference, this year intitled  'Catholics and Shiites facing the future. Two years after Pope Francis' visit to Iraq', is organised by the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic association dedicated to social service, together with the Al-Khoei Institute of Najaf.

 The meeting was attended by a delegation of the Sant'Egidio Community with founder Andrea Riccardi, president Marco Impagliazzo, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia and Cardinals Ayuso, Coutts and Sako.

 On the Shia side, the delegation includes several clerics from the Shia high seminary in Najaf, as well as representatives from other Middle Eastern countries and Europe. The conference, which began on Wednesday will end on Friday, 10 March in Baghdad.

 This new stage of relations between Catholics and Shiites is part of a journey that began in January 2004, when a delegation from Sant'Egidio, invited to Najaf by Shiite clerics, met with Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani, the spiritual leader of Shiites worldwide.

 In 2015, the first international Catholic-Shia meeting took place, which was followed by numerous and varied presences of Shia clerics at the ‘Prayers for Peace,’ promoted by Sant'Egidio. A delegation from Rome was present in Najaf on the day of the meeting between the Pope and Sistani in 2021 and also last year, at the invitation of the Al-Khoei Institute, for the anniversary of the visit. In July 2022, the second Catholic-Shia conference took place in Rome.