A high-ranking Iraqi Catholic leader has urged visiting Shia religious figures to stress more “equality and rights”, reports said.

During a visit by representatives of major Shiite institutions in both Iraq and Iran, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako outlined the experience of Christians, urging the language of religious preaching be “updated”.

“With friendly frankness I told the Shiites that there can be no future unless the language of religious preaching is updated,” Agenzia Fides on 26 July quoted Sako.

“Preaching and dialogue must […] take into consideration real difficulties. We can begin to discuss justice and recognition of human rights,” said Sako to visitors from both Najjaf and Qom, two prominent Shia centres in Iraq and Iran respectively.

Last December, Sako highlighted examples of intimidation faced by Christians in Shia-majority Iraq.

“To again see their freedom threatened is very worrying for Christians,” French newspaper Le Figaro quoted him as saying after posters appeared urging Christian women to cover up.

In Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq, Christians have had to flee, including in places where historically Christianity predominated. Christians have fared relatively better in Shia areas, albeit by a limited margin.

Two-thirds of the country’s Christians fled since the US-led invasion. From above 6% of the population, about 1.5 million, in 2003, current estimates are that barely 0.8% (200,000) still remain.