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The papal reunion with 90-year-old Sistani – who rarely appears in public – represented one of the most important summits between a pope and a prominent Shia Muslim figure in recent years.

Pope Francis’ four-day six-city visit to Iraq is the first papal visit to the country and Francis’s first trip out of Italy since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. After Najaf, he is expected to leave for Nasiriya, where he will hold an interfaith meeting in the Plain of Ur, considered to be the birthplace of Abraham.

The Pope landed in Baghdad on Friday, where he was met by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Francis later met with clerics and other officials at a church in Baghdad that was the site of a bloody massacre in 2010.

Iraq has imposed a full curfew for the entire four-day papal visit to minimize health and safety risks. Francis is due to leave Iraq on March 8.

Francis has met on several occasions in the past the great Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, a prominent Sunni cleric, co-signatory of a 2019 document promising “human brotherhood” between the religions of the world.

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