The corona pandemic prevented Pope Francis from traveling abroad for a long time. Now he is on his way to Iraq. There the corona numbers are increasing. The security situation has also deteriorated.
Baghdad (AP) – Pope Francis is visiting Iraq. His plane landed in the capital Baghdad on Friday. It is the first visit of a head of the Catholic Church to the crisis country and also the Pope’s first trip abroad since the beginning of the corona pandemic.
“I am very happy to be able to resume my travels,” Francis told reporters on the flight to Baghdad. The visit is a duty to a country that has been battered for years.
First of all, Francis wanted to meet Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kasimi and President Barham Salih on Friday. Later there will be meetings with representatives of civil society and the local church.
The Iraqi government had tightened up security measures enormously before arrival. Numerous additional checkpoints were set up in Baghdad. Due to a three-day full curfew, the capital’s streets were mostly deserted on Friday. The security situation in Iraq had recently deteriorated again.
The Christian community in the predominantly Muslim country, persecuted time and time again, has shrunk significantly in recent decades. Once more than a million Christians lived in Iraq. Today it is estimated at 250,000 to 400,000.
For the Pope, the focus of the trip is on interfaith dialogue. He wants to travel to different parts of the country on Monday. Many look forward to Saturday’s meeting with the country’s foremost Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. On Sunday, the 84-year-old travels to Christian communities in the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul and Qaraqosh.
Francis visits Iraq at a time when the corona pandemic is getting worse. This week, the number of new infections in Iraq rose to a record high every day.
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