Source: Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Aboard the papal flight back from Iraq, the first papal trip since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Pope Francis addressed criticism of those who have accused him of being “one step away from heresy” in his commitment to promoting human fraternity among the world’s faiths.
“There are some critics who say the pope is not brave but reckless, that he’s taking steps against Catholic doctrine, that he’s one step from heresy,” the pope told journalists on Monday (March 8).
Francis said that his decision to speak with Muslim religious leaders and promote interreligious dialogue is “always made in prayer, in dialogue, asking for advice.” He said that his efforts to mend Christian-Muslim relations, far from being “capricious,” are in keeping with the doctrine laid out by the Second Vatican Council.
Francis became the first Roman pontiff to visit Iraq when he embarked on his March 5-8 apostolic visit. There, he visited its diminishing Christian community and spoke with political and religious representatives from different faith groups and denominations.
On Saturday (March 6), the pope met in Najaf, a holy city to Shia Muslims, with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most prominent Shiite leader. The historic meeting, which lasted roughly 45 minutes, was the first official meeting between a pope and a prominent Shiite representative.
The pope described al-Sistani as “a humble man” who has “wisdom and prudence,” adding that “it was good for my soul to encounter him.” Francis said the meeting was “a duty in his pilgrimage of faith” to promote human fraternity among religions.
It was Francis’ second major outreach to Muslims. In 2019, Francis cosigned a declaration of human fraternity in Cairo, Egypt, with the Muslim Sunni leader Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar.