Pope Francis will make a historic visit to Iraq in March, the Vatican said on Monday, the first time by a pontiff and that would include a visit to Mosul.
The 83-year-old has long stated his willingness to travel to the Middle Eastern country, although the Vatican said the program would “take into account the development of a health emergency worldwide”.
Francis will be the first head of the Roman Catholic Church to visit France, where there has been a significant decline in the number of Christians in the last two decades.
During the trip from March 5 to March 8, 2021, a spokesman said in the statement, “He will visit Mosul and Qaraqosh in Baghdad, the plains of Ur, the city of Erbil, as well as the plains of Nineveh.” .
Iraq had more than one million Christians but only a few thousand left after the 2003-led invasion and the sweeping of the Islamic State group through a third of the country in 2014.
The Pope’s visit to Mosul would be particularly important, noting that it was the former stronghold of the Islamic State group.
Francis was forced to cancel all foreign trips in June as it became clear that the coronovirus, which arrived in Italy in early March, would also make the journey of the elderly pontiff dangerous.
He said last year that Iraq was on his list for 2020 visits.
At the time he said that he hoped Iraq could “face the future through the peace and shared pursuit of the common people on behalf of all elements of society, including religious, and would not return to hostilities overcome by regional conflicts.” “.
The Vatican’s news portal said, “The pope’s visit will come as a fulfillment of the dream of his predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II.”
“The Polish Pope planned to travel to Iraq in late 1999, but was stopped by Saddam Hussein,” it said.
The Iraqi government welcomed the news of Francis’ visit, with the Foreign Ministry stating: “It gives a message of peace to Iraq and the entire region.”
President Berham Saleh officially invited the pope to visit Iraq in July 2019, hoping that it would help “heal” the country after years of conflict.
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