Pope Francis has arrived in Iraq for the first ever papal visit there, and his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Covid and security fears have made this his riskiest visit yet, but the 84-year-old insisted he was “duty bound”.
He will try to reassure the dwindling Christian community and foster inter-religious dialogue – meeting Iraq’s most revered Shia Muslim cleric.
The Pope will also celebrate Mass at a stadium in Irbil in the north.
About 10,000 Iraqi Security Forces personnel are being deployed to protect the Pope, while round-the-clock curfews are also being imposed to limit the spread of Covid.
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 a land that has been martyred for so many years.”
He had earlier said Iraqi Christians could not be “let down for a second time”, after Pope John Paul II cancelled plans for a trip in 1999 when talks with then-President Saddam Hussein’s government broke down.