'Pilgrim of peace' Pope Francis flies to Baghdad - English

06 Mars, 2021, 05:01 | Auteur: Auguste Feret
  • Pope Francis heads to Iraq to urge the country's dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country aft

He said Iraqis of all faiths deserve to have the same rights and protections as the Shiite Muslim majority.

Salih praised Francis for coming to visit even as the pandemic continues and with security concerns. Only around 300,000 Christians remain in the country today, down from almost 1.5 million in the early 2000s.

He will participate in the official welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace where he will pay a courtesy visit to President Barham Saleh. Describing himself as "a pilgrim of peace" the pontiff is expected to urge the country's dwindling number of Christians to help rebuild their nation and their community after years of war and persecution.

"A Middle East without Christians is like trying to make bread with flour, but no yeast or salt", he said.

Francis will afterwards head to the desert site of Ur, where Abraham is thought to have been born.

In the two decades since then, one of the world's oldest Christian communities has seen its numbers plummet from 1.4 million to about 250,000. In January, a suicide attack claimed by the Sunni militant group killed 32 people in Baghdad's deadliest such attack for years.

Horsemen carrying both Iraqi and Vatican flags escorted his motorcade inside the Green Zone, which houses key government buildings and foreign embassies. He and his entourage have all been vaccinated.

Public health experts have expressed concern about the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, fearing it could accelerate the country's already worsening coronavirus outbreak.

"People had only a few minutes to decide if they wanted to leave or be decapitated", recalled Karam Qacha, a Chaldean Catholic priest in Nineveh.

On his part, Pope Francis hailed Iraq as a cradle of civilizations and asked God to heal the wounds of its people.

Iraqi Christians gather at the Church of the Virgin Mary before going to the airport to welcome the Pope in Baghdad Iraq Friday

Francis departed Vatican City early Friday morning and arrived in Baghdad a few hours later. There are Christians in Iraq that have been Christians in Iraq since the time of Jesus.

POPE FRANCIS has arrived in Iraq for the first ever papal visit to the war-torn middle eastern country, and his first global trip since the coronavirus pandemic began.

One figure was notably absent: the Vatican's ambassador to Iraq, who tested positive for Covid-19 after spending weeks making papal preparations across the country.

Many have fled to escape the chaos that has gripped the country - once the cradle of civilisation - since the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam. Sunday will see him travel to the north of the country, including to Mosul, and lead prayers in areas retaken from Islamic State extremists.

Stepping off the plane at Baghdad airport, the 84-year-old pontiff was met by throngs of Iraqi well-wishers who flocked to greet him upon his arrival.

Iraq was estimated to have almost 1.5 million Christians prior to the 2003 USA -led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

"Allow me in the beginning to extend a greeting mixed with respect and appreciation to my esteemed brother Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, and the permanent fearless friend on the path of brotherhood and peace".

"The different Churches present in Iraq, each with its age-old historical, liturgical and spiritual patrimony, are like so many individual coloured threads that, woven together, make up a single handsome carpet, one that displays not only our fraternity but points also to its source", the pope said.

"We are gathered in this Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, hallowed by the blood of our brothers and sisters who here paid the ultimate price of their fidelity to the Lord and his Church", Francis said, calling for Christians to be inspired by their sacrifice. Many were not wearing masks and sat close to each other.

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