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.
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-19.
BREAKING: Pope Francis arrives in Iraq, launching first papal visit to rally dwindling Christian community after decades of war.https://t.co/sN4Fhvqdyw— The Associated Press (@AP) March 5, 2021
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi welcomed Francis at Baghdad International Airport. He was greeted with fanfare as he stepped onto the red carpet, and then by a choir as he entered the airport.
Crowds of people waved Iraqi and Vatican flags as he passed on his way to sit and speak with the prime minister in a reception area of the airport. The conversation was not broadcast. As Francis left the airport, he passed people dancing and singing, few of whom were wearing masks.
My dear Christian brothers and sisters from #Iraq, who have testified to your faith in Jesus amid harsh sufferings: I cannot wait to see you. I am honoured to encounter a Church of martyrs: thank you for your witness! https://t.co/bgm76p31tM— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) March 4, 2021
Iraqi President Barham Saleh welcomed the Pope in an elevated speech about Iraq's diversity in faiths and the pain its peoples from different ethnicities have suffered for decades and called for a structured way to bring back stability to the region thus facilitating the return of those sons and daughters who had to migrate to different parts of the world as a result of war and persecution by terrorist groups.
On his part, Pope Francis hailed Iraq as a cradle of civilizations and asked God to heal the wounds of its people.
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