Pope Francis holds historic meeting with powerful Shia Islam cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on day 2 of landmark visit to Iraq

Pope Francis holds historic meeting with powerful Shia Islam cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on day 2 of landmark visit to Iraq

The 84-year-old Holy See (right), who defied security fears and the pandemic to become the first pontiff to travel to Iraq, met with the Grand Ayatollah in Najaf (left) today, Saturday, on the second of his four-day trip (Photo courtesy by AP)

By FAITH RIDLER (MAILONLINE)

IRAQ — Pope Francis today held a historic meeting with the top Shia Islam cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on day two of his landmark visit to Iraq.

The 84-year-old, who defied security fears and the pandemic to become the first pontiff to travel to the Gulf, met with the Grand Ayatollah in Najaf as his four-day trip continued.

Pope Francis, who said he was traveling to Iraq as a ‘pilgrim of peace’ on his first foreign trip since Covid-19 struck, was driven to the home of the Ayatollah in a bullet-proof vehicle on Saturday morning.

Children had lined the streets and waved Iraqi and Vatican flags to mark his arrival.

The meeting was unusual for al-Sistani, 90, who rarely sees world leaders.

Following the hour-long discussion, Pope Francis traveled to the ruins of Ur in southern Iraq, revered as the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He will later fly back to Baghdad, where he is expected to deliver mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph.

Al-Sistani is one of the most influential figures in Shia Islam, and has previously refused to meet with Iraq’s current and former Prime Ministers. (AI/MTVN/MailOnline courtesy)

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