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IN PHOTOS: Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to Iraq despite pandemic, security concerns

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Stephen Roan
Stephen Matthew S. Roan is a Global Affairs Columnist at Politixxx Today. He previously served as Editor-in-Chief of The Bedan Roar, the official student publication of San Beda University-Rizal SHS. He was also a former Vice-President of the Bedan Model United Nations and a Student Council Board Member. With a keen interest in global politics and affairs, and as an advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals, he is now part of a youth-led network in the Asia-Pacific - the 2030 Youth Force in the Philippines - which helps realize the 2030 Agenda. He is also pursuing his undergraduate studies at De La Salle University-Manila under the Bachelor of Arts in International Studies Major in American Studies degree program. You may reach him through his email: stephenmatthewroan@yahoo.com.

IRAQ – Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, arrived in Iraq on March 5 for a historic four-day apostolic visit to speak a “message of peace and tolerance” in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and security concerns.

The Pope’s visit to Iraq is the first papal visit to a Middle Eastern country and his first international trip since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The historic visit also marks Francis’ 33rd apostolic journey during his pontificate.

Francis’ visit came to urge the dwindling number of Iraqi Christians to stay frim and help rebuild the community of Christians who were subjected to years of war and persecution.

The top Catholic clergy landed in Baghdad and was welcomed by President Barham Salih of Iraq.

Pope Francis was greeted by President Barham Salih of Iraq after arriving in Baghdad on Friday. [Photo by Ivor Prickett/The New York Times]

He was met with empty cordoned streets, Vatican flags, and “Mesopotamia Greets You” signs.

A sign reading ““Mesopotamia Greets You” in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone. [Photo by Ivor Prickett/ The New York Times]

Later in the day, Iraqi Christians welcomed Pope Francis as he arrived at Our Lady of Salvation Church.

Pope Francis, who is seen to be maskless, meets with the faithful at the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad which was previously a site of a 2010 Al Qaeda attack. [Photo by Ivor Prickett/The New York Times]
A security guard stood in front of a mural of the pope that was painted on blast walls in front of Our Lady of Salvation Church. [Photo by Ivor Prickett/The New York Times]

On his second day of visit, the pontiff went to Najaf, Iraq to meet with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq’s Shia community – a significant milestone for interreligious dialogue as it is the first time for such meeting between the leaders of the Roman Catholic church and Shi’ite Islam.

Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani met with Pope Francis and his delegation at his home in the holy city of Najaf, on March 6, 2021. [Ayatollah al-Sistani’s Media Office via AFP]

From Najaf, Francis then flew to the ancient city of Ur. There, he engaged in inter-religious discussions at the Plain of Ur.

Pope Francis, center, at an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur. [Photo by Ivor Prickett/The New York Times]

On Sunday, the Pope concluded his apostolic visit by exploring the wreckage in the city of Mosul – a once vibrant and diverse city that was destroyed by the Islamic State (IS) – and by visiting Qaraqosh, an ancient town on the Nineveh plains that experienced genocide.

He was accompanied by the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa as they went near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in Mosul.

Accompanied by the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa, left, Pope Francis looks over a square near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in Mosul. [Vincenzo Pinto/AFP]

As he surveyed the ruins, the Pope held a minute of silence at the destroyed cathedral in Mosul and offered a prayer for both the eternal peace of those who were killed and the repentance of their killers.

To you we entrust all those whose span of earthly life was cut short by the violent hand of their brothers and sisters,” Francis said. “We also pray to you for those who caused such harm to their brothers and sisters. May they repent, touched by the power of your mercy,” he added.

The pope holds a minute of silence at the destroyed cathedral in Mosul’s old city. [Yara Nardi/Reuters]

The pontiff also denounced extremism and fanaticism when he spoke before the Qaraqosh cathedral during a mass.

Francis arrived for a meeting with the Qaraqosh community at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. [Photo by Ivor Prickett/The New York Times]
Pope Francis arrives to hold a mass at the Grand Immaculate Church in Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian city in the Nineveh Plains. [Handout/Vatican Media via Reuters]

How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed,” said the Holy Father as he spoke inside the Church of Immaculate Conception. “Many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis – who were cruelly annihilated by terrorism, and others forcibly displaced or killed, ” he added.

Pope Francis performs mass at Qaraqosh’s Grand Immaculate Church. [Handout/Vatican Media via Reuters]

Before retuning to Baghdad on Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated an evening mass for thousands of Iraqi Christians. At the end of the Eucharistic Celebration, the pontiff bade farewell to the nation.

Pope Francis blessing people as he arrives in the popemobile vehicle at the Franso Hariri Stadium [Azad Lashkari/Reuters]
Pope Francis leads a mass at the Hariri Stadium in Erbil [Azad Lashkari/Reuters]
Pope Francis meeting Iraqi and Vatican officials before boarding the plane. [Photo by Vatican News]

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