To minimize the risks, the pontiff will travel in an armored vehicle and participate in events with no more than 100 people, with the exception of a mass for 10,000 faithful in a stadium in the city of Erbil
THE Iraq receives a visit from a leader of the Catholic church for the first time in history. This Friday, the 5th, the Pope Francisco landed on Baghdad for a three-day stay in the country of Middle East. “I have wanted to meet with these people who have suffered so much for a long time,” said the pontiff earlier this week. The trip, which was already causing concern due to the new coronavirus pandemic, it seemed even more risky after the rocket attack on a United States military base in Iraq on Wednesday, 3. However, the Holy Father refused to postpone or cancel the trip mentioning his desire to keep a promise made by the late Pope John Paul II who, in 1999, had to cancel his trip to the country due to unsuccessful negotiations with then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. “This people cannot be disappointed for the second time,” defended Pope Francis, also saying that he will visit the country as “a pilgrim of peace, after years of war and terrorism”.
The spokesman for the VaticanMatteo Bruni explained to the press that security is always the responsibility of the country that hosts the pontiff. To minimize the risks, however, Pope Francis will travel through Iraq in an armored vehicle and participate in events with no more than 100 people. The only exception will be a mass for 10,000 worshipers in a stadium in the city of Erbil, which originally has a capacity for 30,000 people. Bruni explained that the Holy Father wants people to see him there, close to them, and that the trip as a whole can be interpreted as an “act of love” by Pope Francis. However, the program will not only include meetings with members of the Catholic community. The pontiff is also expected to meet with Christians from other backgrounds, political leaders and even Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s top Shi’ite official. In a video message sent to Iraqis on Thursday, 4, the leader of the Catholic Church expressed his desire to pray with brothers and sisters of other religious traditions, since for him the Iraqi people are like “a single family of muslim, Jews e christians“. Not for nothing, he chose the motto “you are all brothers” for the trip, taken from the gospel of Matthew.
The 33rd international trip of the pontificate of Francis, however, does not cease to target a Catholic community that has been shrinking over the years. Data collected by the Aid to the Church in Need foundation, which assists groups suffering religious persecution, indicate that Iraq’s Christian population has dropped from 1.4 million in 2003 to 250,000 today. In the past, most Christians lived in Mosul, which was under the rule of the Islamic state from 2014 to 2017. Until the 8th, the leader of the Catholic Church will pass through this city and also through Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, and Najaf, the “holy city” of Shiite Islam, in addition to Baghdad, Erbil and Qaraqosh. On the other hand, a pope’s first visit to a country with a Shi’ite majority also weighs from the point of view of geopolitics: the situation in Iraq is still far from resolved and the country remains a key to peace in the Middle East as a whole.