Pope Francis has arrived in Iraq on Friday for the first-ever papal visit to the predominantly Muslim country, beginning a four-day visit in Baghdad. This his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The pope, who wore a facemask during the flight, kept it on as he descended the stairs to the tarmac of Baghdad’s international airport and was greeted by two masked children in traditional dress.
Iraq’s PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi greeted the Pope at the airport. On the plane, Francis said he was happy to be traveling again, adding: “This is an emblematic trip and it is a duty towards land that has been martyred for so many years, citing from CNN
They are about 10,000 Iraqi Security Forces personnel deployed to protect the Pope, while round-the-clock curfews are also being imposed to limit the spread of Covid.
The 84-year-old pontiff will say Mass at a stadium in Irbil in the north, meet Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric in the southern city of Najaf and travel north to Mosul, where the army had to empty the streets for security reasons last year for a visit by Iraq’s prime minister.
The pope is expected to visit Ur, birthplace of the prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and meet Iraq’s revered top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
The Iraq trip is his first outside Italy since November 2019.