UR, Iraq — First in a closed-door meeting with an Iraqi ayatollah, later on a desert stage overlooking ruins dating back to Abraham, Pope Francis on Saturday made a sweeping appeal for the kind of religious coexistence that has long eluded Iraq, while also testing the limits of his influence.
"We need one another," Francis said from a stage on the desert plain of Ur, said to be the birthplace of Abraham, a patriarch for Muslims, Christians and Jews. In the audience for his message were Catholic prelates and leaders from other faiths.
But few countries have been more riven by sectarianism and conflict.
In Iraq, minorities — including Iraq's tiny Christian population — have fled and faced targeted bloodshed. Grinding daily problems feed into religious grievances in a nation with deep rivalries among the majority Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds.
In pressing his hallmark calls for unity when Iraq is dealing with so many forms of turbulence, Francis was gauging what can be accomplished with words in a single weekend before his departure Monday.