Pope Francis, 84, has arrived in Baghdad, Iraq. It marked the first visit in the country by the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State.
In 2000, the late Pope John Paul II was supposed to visit Iraq. But after a breakdown in talks between the late fifth Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the Vatican, the trip was cancelled.
“For some time I have wanted to meet that people who suffered so much,” CNN quoted Francis as saying on March 3, 2021. “The people of Iraq are waiting for us. They were waiting for St. Pope John Paul II, who was not allowed to go.”
It took 4 hours and 30 minutes for Pope Francis to travel from the Vatican to Baghdad via the Alitalia A330 airplane. Some journalists including Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni accompanied the pope.
Bruni thanked the pope for allowing them to accompany him on the trip to Iraq. The latter thanked the former for his willingness to make a pilgrimage to the country, according to the Vatican News.
On March 5, 2021, Francis will meet Iraq’s prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, 53, and eighth Iraqi president Barham Ahmed Salih Qasim, 60. Afterwards, the pontiff will meet with clerics and other officials at two Catholic churches in Baghdad.
On March 6, 2021, Francis will visit Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, 90, at the residence of the latter in Najaf, Iraq. The pontiff is also expected to visit the plain of Ur, which is considered the birthplace of Abraham and located at the site of modern Tell el-Muqayyar in Dhi Qar Governate, Iraq.