Pope bids farewell to top Shi'ite cleric

Francis's meeting in the holy southern city of Najaf, during a whirlwind and risky tour of Iraq, marked the first time a pope has met with such a senior Shi'ite cleric.

After his 55-minute meeting with Sistani, Francis headed to the ruins of ancient Ur in southern Iraq, revered as the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Sistani is one of the most important figures in Shi'ite Islam, both within Iraq and beyond.

Sistani, 90, rarely takes meetings, and has refused talks with Iraq's current and former prime ministers, according to officials close to him. Sistani agreed to meet the pope on condition that no Iraqi officials would be present, said a source in the president's office.

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