Pope Francis begins three-day trip to Iraq
The pontiff considers it "a duty" to visit this country and its Christian minority
BarcelonaPope Francis has arrived at Baghdad airport a few minutes before noon (Catalan time) to begin what is considered the riskiest trip since he began his pontificate in 2013. It is the first time that the head of the Catholic Church visits this Muslim-majority country and, during the flight from Rome, Francis said it was "a duty" to visit this "martyred land". Francis was welcomed at the airport by the Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and during the three-day visit he plans to meet the country's president, the Kurd Barham Saleh, and also to approach the Christian community of Iraq, which in recent years has suffered fierce persecution by Islamic State. Since 2003, violence against religious minorities has caused the number of Christians in the country to shrink from about 1.5 million to just 300,000
During his stay in Iraq, the pope is scheduled to officiate at a Mass in a Baghdad church where in 2010 a group of gunmen killed more than 50 worshippers. He will also visit Ur, the city where the Prophet Abraham, revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, was born, and will meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's highest Shiite authority, in the city of Najaf. One of the most sensitive moments of the trip will probably be the visit to Mosul, a former stronghold of Islamic State.
The pope had not made a trip outside Italy since November 2019, due to the pandemic. But the main concern on this visit to Iraq is not covid-19, but security. This Wednesday, ten rockets hit a military base that hosts Iraqi and American soldiers, and in January a suicide attack killed 32 people in Baghdad, in the most serious act of this kind in the city for years. However, the pontiff has not changed his plans and has kept the trip on the agenda. To ensure his safety, the country has deployed thousands of additional law enforcement officers.