Pope Francis to begin 1st-ever Iraq visit

Pope Francis is set to embark on the first ever papal visit to Iraq on Friday, despite the raging coronavirus pandemic and security concerns in the Middle Eastern country, it was reported on Friday.

Francis’ trip comes 22 years after Pope John Paul II cancelled a visit in 1999 after talks with the government of then-President Saddam Hussein’s broke down.

According to a BBC report, the 84-year-old head of the Catholic Church will be greeted by welcomed by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih upon his arrival in Baghdad.

After this, he will meet bishops and other clergy Our Lady of Salvation, a Syriac Catholic church in the capital city.

On Saturday, he will arrive at the city of Najaf, where he will visit Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading spiritual leader of Iraqi Shia Muslims and one of the most senior clerics in Shia Islam.

Pope Francis will also participate in an inter-religious meeting at the ancient site of Ur, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham.

On Sunday, he will visit Mosul, the former stronghold of the Islamic State terror group, and will say a prayer of suffrage in the Church Square.

Later in the day, he will celebrate Mass at a stadium in Irbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region.

Some 10,000 Iraqi security personnel have been deployed to ensure the safety of the Pope.

“The head of the Roman Catholic Church aims to embolden persecuted Christians and call for peace in meetings with political and other religious leaders,” the BBC report said.

In view of the raging pandemic, the Pope, who has already received two shots of the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, will have limited public access, the BBC reported.

Currently, there are about 250,000 Christians living in Iraq or 1 per cent of the country’s total population, the BBC report said.

Majority of them are based in the Nineveh Plain and Kurdistan Region.