Pope Francis is set to make his first apostolic visit after a 15-month hiatus from international travel with what is sure to be a historic visit to Iraq in March 2021. The Pope will be visiting Baghdad, the plain of Ur, Mosul, and Qaragosh.
According to Matteo Bruni, the cities that Pope Francis will visit is linked to the memory of Abraham. His itinerary will be released at a later date because they will have to “take into consideration the evolution of the worldwide health emergency.” (Read: Pope Francis Cancels Public Appearance for Immaculate Conception This Year)
Pope Francis has long expressed his desire to visit Iraq. In fact, in 2019, he told a meeting of Catholic aid agencies that he planned on traveling to the country in 2020.
“I think constantly of Iraq— where I want to go next year— in the hope that it can face the future through peaceful and shared pursuit of the common good on the part of all elements of society, including the religious, and not fall back into hostilities sparked by the simmering conflicts of the regional powers,” the Pope said. (Read: A Look Into the Pope’s Relationship With World Leaders)
The Pope’s visit will come as the realization of a dream of his predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II. The late Polish Pope had planned to travel to Iraq at the ned of 1999. The trip never took place because Saddam Hussein decided to postpone it, after months of negotiations.
Christianity in Iraq
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, said that Pope Francis will have an enthusiastic welcome to Iraq. “Everyone in Iraq, Christians, and Muslims, esteem him [Pope Francis] for his simplicity and nearness,” he said. “His words touch everyone’s hearts because they are those of a shepherd. He is a man who brings peace.” (Read: The most heartwarming moments from Lolo Kiko’s visit to the Philippines)
In the past two decades, Christian presence in Iraq has been drastically diminished. It comes as the Islamic State’s drawn-out war and the 2014-1017 occupation of the Plain of Nineveh has reduced their number to between 300 to 400 thousand from around 1 to 1.4 million Christians in the country.
For the past months, Iraq’s president and prime minister have been inviting Christians who have fled the country to return and help rebuild the nation.