National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in Iraq Date in the current year: March 6, 2024

National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in Iraq National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence was added to the official holiday calendar of Iraq in 2021. It is celebrated on March 6 to commemorate the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that took place during the Pope’s 2021 visit to Iraq.

Iraq is home to religious sites that are considered sacred by the three main Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. One of them is the remains of Ur, an ancient Mesopotamian city-state that is mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of Abraham, the common patriarch of the Abrahamic religions.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II wanted to visit Ur during his planned visit to Iraq, Egypt, and Israel. However, negotiations between the Holy See and the Saddam Hussein-led government of Iraq reached an impasse, so the first ever papal visit to Iraq had to be canceled.

At the beginning of 2020, Iraqi president Barham Salih met Pope Francis at an audience in the Vatican. In December of the same year, the Holy See Press Office released a statement announcing the Pope’s apostolic visit to Iraq at the invitation of the Republic of Iraq and the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Pope Francis’s journey to Iraq was his first apostolic visit since November 2019, since all his journeys throughout 2020 had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The visit lasted for four days, from March 5 to 8, 2021. During this time Pope Francis visited Ur, Baghdad, Najaf, Qaraqosh (Bakhdida), Erbil, and Mosul.

During his visit to Najaf on March 6, the Pope met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an influential Shia scholar who is widely regarded as the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shia Muslims. Following a forty minute-long meeting that took place in al-Sistani’s home, the two religious leaders issued a joint statement condemning religious extremism.

After the meeting, Pope Francis visited Ur and then returned to Baghdad where he held a mass at the Latin Cathedral of St. Joseph. It was the first time that Pope Francis delivered a liturgy according to the Eastern Rite.

To emphasize the importance of the meeting between Pope Francis and Ayatollah Sistani, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi declared its anniversary, March 6, a public holiday named National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence. Its main goal is to encourage Iraqi Christians to return home after years of persecution and violence that forced them to leave Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s regime, as well as to highlight the importance of the peaceful coexistence of different religions.

Although approximately 95% of the country’s population are Muslims (both Sunni and Shia), there are people in Iraq who follow other religions. About 3% of the population are ethnic Assyrians who identify as Christians. They belong to several churches: the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Antiochian Orthodox Church. A small portion of the population follows other religions such as Yazidism, Zoroastrianism, Mandaeism, and Judaism.

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