Pope Francis finally arrives in Iraq on a historic risky visit

The Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis has finally arrived in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital on Friday for a three-day visit, 

The Pope took the risk to visit the crises prone country undeterred by suggestions that his trip might be a dangerous one.

Also depite the ravaging coronavirus, which many people said could be multiplied in that area by the visit.

This is the first trip Pope Francis has embarked on since the pandemic swept the world and the first time a head of the Roman Catholic Church is believed to have visited the country.

The Pope said “he is committed to offering support to the  Christians in Iraq” and from all indications the  journey promises to be as rich in symbolism as it is fraught with risk.

“I am happy to travel again,” the pope said, taking off his blue surgical mask to address reporters en route to Iraq. 

ALSO READ: Saudi govt makes Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for Hajj

It was gathered that the Pope’s Alitalia flight was accompanied by U.S. aircraft from the Ain al-Asad military base after entering Iraqi airspace.

Many people have observed that by Francis choosing Iraq as his first destination since the pandemic began, he has waded directly into the issues of war and peace, and poverty and religious strife, in an ancient biblical land.

“This trip is emblematic,” he said, calling it “a duty to a land martyred for many years.”

He was welcomed by a small color guard and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

The Catholic Pontiff left the airport complex in a black BMW, his window rolled down. He waved as he passed a small group of faithful behind a metal fence on the side of the highway. 

It was the start of a journey that will take him to battle-scarred churches and desert pilgrimage sites.

Iraq is an area known generally as the cradle of civilization, the modern history of Mesopotamia 

It has been scarred by lasting hardship: which include three decades of despotic rule, followed by two decades of war and a wave of carnage unleashed by the Islamic State.

At a time in the past, the country was a rich tapestry of faiths, but at the moment it has been hallowed out as orthodoxies hardened. 

ALSO READ: Nigerian on death sentence in Vietnam for drug trafficking

Its Jews are almost completely gone, and its Christian community grows smaller every year. About one million have fled since the 2003 United States-led invasion. An estimated 500,000 remain.

That backdrop makes the pope’s visit on Saturday to the ancient city of Ur — traditionally held to be the birthplace of Abraham, who is revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians alike — all the more powerful.

In fact, his trip carries a description from the Gospel of Matthew: “You are all brothers.”

But the pope’s agenda also casts a spotlight on the terrible toll wrought when divisions harden and violence takes over.

On Friday evening he will meet with priests, bishops and others at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, which over a decade ago, came under assault when attackers killed at least 58 people in an assault, which was carried out by an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

It was far from the deadliest massacre in the country, where tens of thousands of Muslims have died in war and sectarian fighting, but the attack tore at the heart of the Christian community.

The Rev. Meyassr al-Qasboutros, a priest who survived the assault, told a New York Times correspondent that the priest’s cousin, Wassim Sabih, was one of the two priests killed.

Father Sabih, according to survivors, was pushed to the ground as he grasped a crucifix and pleaded with the gunmen to spare the worshipers.

He was then killed.

“We must die here,” Father Qasboutros told Mr. Shadid a decade ago. “We can’t leave this country.”

An image of Francis is painted on the blast walls that now ring Our Lady of Salvation.

ALSO READ: US warns of retaliating rocket attack on Iraq base

Pope Francis revealed that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had to scuttle plans to visit the remaining Christians in the country, but he would not cancel his own trip.

Related Articles

Popular Articles