'Pilgrim of peace' Pope Francis flies to Baghdad - English

Grant Boone
March 6, 2021

The pontiff will be welcomed in a ceremony at the Presidential Palace and will later meet Iraqi President Barham Salih and heads of local Christian communities.

It's the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, and it is Pope Francis' first trip outside of Italy since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Security around the trip has been extremely tight, with thousands of troops deployed to the streets of Iraq, drones in the air monitoring the routes taken by the Papal delegation, and explosive and counterterrorist specialists on standby. "How much we have prayed in these years for peace in Iraq", he said.

The pope's plane on Friday landed at Baghdad's airport, and he was greeted by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, The Associated Press reports.

Vatican City • Standing in the Assyrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad where 50 worshippers, clergy and policemen were killed in a 2010 terrorist attack, Pope Francis on Friday made an appeal for "forgiveness, reconciliation and rebirth" in the struggling Middle Eastern nation.

"It might not change much on the ground, but at least if the Pope visits, people will see our country in a different light, not just bombs and war", said Ali Hassan, a 30-year-old Baghdad resident picking up relatives at the airport.

He called for "justice and the fostering of honesty, transparency and the strengthening of the institutions responsible in this regard", adding, "In this way, stability within society grows and a healthy politics arises, able to offer to all, especially the young of whom there are so many in this country, sure hope for a better future".

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said Iraqis were eager to welcome Francis' "message of peace and tolerance" and described the visit as a historic meeting between the "minaret and the bells".

Speaking of the occasion, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: "As a direct descendant from the Prophet himself, the meeting of Ayatollah al-Sistani with Pope Francis, the revered Bishop of Rome, leader of the Catholic Church and the most readily recognised Christian figure in the world, is a unique moment, something that has never before happened in the last 1200 years history of Christian - Muslim relations".

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The pope's visit was an opportunity for Iraqis to unite during a hard time where Iraq is suffering from multiple crises.

Francis is planning to visit several Iraqi cities during his visit, including Mosul, Erbil and Qaraqosh where he will meet people rebuilding their communities and churches.

What has the Pope said so far?

Iraq was home to almost 1.5 million Christians before the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and plunged the country into chaos.

He doesn't expect more to return, but he said Francis' visit would have immeasurable importance for those who stayed.

A group of political and religious officials met the pope on his arrival in Baghdad, including the Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq, Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, and representatives of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Baghdad, the Latin Archdiocese of Baghdad, the Syriac Archeparchy of Baghdad and Armenian Archeparchy of Baghdad.

"My dear Christian brothers and sisters, who have testified to your faith in Christ amid harsh sufferings: I wait with trepidation to see you", the pope said in his televised address.

The Pope hopes his visit will help Iraq overcome such violence by promoting religious coexistence.

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