Pope Francis Lands in Baghdad, Marking First-ever Papal Visit to Iraq

Pope Francis begins a long-desired trip to Iraq Friday, the first to the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham by any head of the Catholic Church. It is the first trip by Pope Francis to a foreign country since the pandemic, and everyone on the papal plane has been vaccinated against COVID-19. It will be a challenge all the same, though, as cases in the country have surged and there are fears that those hoping to see the pope will forget the social distancing rules. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi welcomes Pope Francis as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport to start his historic tour in Baghdad, Iraq, March 5, 2021.The Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq, Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, recently tested positive for COVID and is currently self-isolating, but the pope has insisted on going ahead with the visit.In a video message to the Iraqi people, Francis told them how he longed to meet them, see their faces and visit a land that is ancient and an extraordinary cradle of civilization.The pope said he was coming to Iraq as a “penitent pilgrim” to implore forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism.My dear Christian brothers and sisters from Pope Francis arrives at Baghdad International Airport where a welcoming ceremony is held to start his historic tour in Baghdad, Iraq, March 5, 2021.Security is also a concern during the papal visit, as attacks have increased in recent weeks on civilian and military targets. The pope is expected to travel in an armored vehicle and not his usual popemobile. Vatican officials have said they are satisfied that Iraqi authorities will be able to provide the required protection for the papal visit. Francis is planning to visit several Iraqi cities during his visit, including Mosul, Erbil and Qaraqosh where he will meet people rebuilding their communities and churches. He will also visit Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. One of the highlights of his trip will undoubtedly be when he travels to the holy city of Najaf to meet the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential 90-year-old Shia Muslim cleric. A man takes selfies as he waits for the arrival of Pope Francis, at Baghdad Airport Road, in Baghdad, Iraq March 5, 2021.   

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