The Healing of History: Pope Francis in Iraqi

Published March 7th, 2021 - 07:55 GMT

Pope Francis landed in northern Iraq to cap his historic tour to the country with a visit to Christian communities that endured the brutality of a jihadist "caliphate".

The heaviest deployment of security forces yet has been mobilized to protect the 84-year-old pontiff on what is perhaps his riskiest day in Iraq.

Pope Francis held a brief meeting with regional president Nechirvan Barzani and his cousin, prime minister Masrour Barzani.

The pontiff will then travel by helicopter to lead a prayer "for the victims of the war" in the city of Mosul, an ancient crossroads overrun by the Islamic State group in 2014.

The Pope Francis trip to Iraq as a "pilgrim of peace" aims to reassure the country's ancient, but dwindling, Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.

The Christian community of Iraq has shrunk from 1.5 million before the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to only 400,000 now, about one percent of the 40 million living in the Muslim-majority country.

Pope Francis said he was ready to come to meet the displaced and other victims of war in a show of solidarity.

He will see for himself the devastated Old City of Mosul and the painstaking efforts to rebuild it. He will then travel east to Qaraqosh, one of Iraq's oldest Christian towns whose residents still speak a dialect of the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

Authorities have imposed a nationwide lockdown -- ostensibly to keep cases down but also to help control movements during the Pope's high-profile visit.

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Pope Francis (R), accompanied by the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Najib Michaeel Moussa

Pope Francis (R), accompanied by the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Najib Michaeel Moussa (2nd-R), looks on at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Pope Francis (C) arrives at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception

Pope Francis (C) arrives at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Irqi children wave Kurdish flags as they welcome Pope Francis

Irqi children wave Kurdish flags as they welcome Pope Francis upon his arrival at Arbil airport on March 7, 2021, in the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago. Safin HAMED / AFP

Iraqi children dressed in costumes wave national flags near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church

Iraqi children dressed in costumes wave national flags near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul, amidst preparations ahead of the Pope's visit, on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Iraqis gather near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church

Iraqis gather near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul, amidst preparations ahead of the Pope's visit, on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard in the streets of the northern city of Mosul

A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard in the streets of the northern city of Mosul, in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis, on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

a view of (L to R) of Latin and Chaldean crosses placed upon a platform where Pope Francis is due to speak

This picture taken March 6, 2021 shows a view of (L to R) of Latin and Chaldean crosses placed upon a platform where Pope Francis is due to speak in the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern city of Mosul (formerly ravaged by Islamic State group militants), amidst preparations ahead of the pope's visit to the town. Zaid AL-OBEIDI / AFP

Pope Francis arrives at Baghdad's Saint Joseph Cathedral

Pope Francis arrives at Baghdad's Saint Joseph Cathedral on the second day of the first papal visit to Iraq on March 6, 2021. Pope Francis made a plea for peace today, telling those gathered at an interreligious service in southern Iraq that he hoped the world would "journey from conflict to unity." Sabah ARAR / AFP

Chief of the Sabean Mandaean community, Sheikh Sattar Jabar Helou (L) and other dignitaries representing Iraq's religious

Chief of the Sabean Mandaean community, Sheikh Sattar Jabar Helou (L) and other dignitaries representing Iraq's religious minorities attend an interfaith service held by Pope Francis (not pictured), at the House of Abraham in the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq's Dhi Qar province, on March 6, 2021. The pontiff's March 5-8 visit, the first ever by a pope to Iraq, will include inter-religious prayers at the ancient city of Ur where the Bible says Abraham, the father of three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was born, and is one of the oldest sites of Mesopotamia. Ayman HENNA / AFP

Pope Francis speaks during an interfaith service with many of Iraq's religious minorities

Pope Francis speaks during an interfaith service with many of Iraq's religious minorities in attendance, at the House of Abraham in the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq's Dhi Qar province, on March 6, 2021. The pontiff's March 5-8 visit, the first ever by a pope to Iraq, includes inter-religious prayers at the ancient city of Ur where the Bible says Abraham, the father of three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was born, and is one of the oldest sites of Mesopotamia. Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP

An Iraqi woman walks in front of a banner welcoming Pope Francis

An Iraqi woman walks in front of a banner welcoming Pope Francis, hung on the wall of the Saint Joseph Chaldean Catholic church, in the capital Baghdad, on February 26, 2021. Pope Francis is set to be in Iraq from March 5 to 8 with an ambitious programme that will take round the country. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

Iraqi President Barham Saleh welcomes Pope Francis

Iraqi President Barham Saleh welcomes Pope Francis in at the presidential palace in Baghdad's Green Zone, upon his arrival on March 5, 2021 at the start of the first papal visit to Iraq. Pope Francis landed in war-battered Iraq on the first-ever papal visit, defying security fears and the pandemic to comfort one of the world's oldest and most persecuted Christian communities. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Pope Francis (C) visits Baghdad's Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation

Pope Francis (C) visits Baghdad's Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) at the start of the first ever papal visit to Iraq on March 5, 2021. In an address to the faithful in Baghdad, the pontiff expressed his gratitude to his fellow clergy for supporting Iraq's Christians, whose population has dwindled due to conflict. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Pope Francis (R), accompanied by the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Najib Michaeel Moussa
Pope Francis (C) arrives at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception
Irqi children wave Kurdish flags as they welcome Pope Francis
Iraqi children dressed in costumes wave national flags near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church
Iraqis gather near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church
A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard in the streets of the northern city of Mosul
 a view of (L to R) of Latin and Chaldean crosses placed upon a platform where Pope Francis is due to speak
Pope Francis arrives at Baghdad's Saint Joseph Cathedral
Chief of the Sabean Mandaean community, Sheikh Sattar Jabar Helou (L) and other dignitaries representing Iraq's religious
Pope Francis speaks during an interfaith service with many of Iraq's religious minorities
An Iraqi woman walks in front of a banner welcoming Pope Francis
Iraqi President Barham Saleh welcomes Pope Francis
Pope Francis (C) visits Baghdad's Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation
Pope Francis (R), accompanied by the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Najib Michaeel Moussa
Pope Francis (R), accompanied by the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Najib Michaeel Moussa (2nd-R), looks on at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
Pope Francis (C) arrives at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception
Pope Francis (C) arrives at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
Irqi children wave Kurdish flags as they welcome Pope Francis
Irqi children wave Kurdish flags as they welcome Pope Francis upon his arrival at Arbil airport on March 7, 2021, in the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago. Safin HAMED / AFP
Iraqi children dressed in costumes wave national flags near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church
Iraqi children dressed in costumes wave national flags near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul, amidst preparations ahead of the Pope's visit, on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
Iraqis gather near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church
Iraqis gather near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul, amidst preparations ahead of the Pope's visit, on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard in the streets of the northern city of Mosul
A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard in the streets of the northern city of Mosul, in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis, on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
 a view of (L to R) of Latin and Chaldean crosses placed upon a platform where Pope Francis is due to speak
This picture taken March 6, 2021 shows a view of (L to R) of Latin and Chaldean crosses placed upon a platform where Pope Francis is due to speak in the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern city of Mosul (formerly ravaged by Islamic State group militants), amidst preparations ahead of the pope's visit to the town. Zaid AL-OBEIDI / AFP
Pope Francis arrives at Baghdad's Saint Joseph Cathedral
Pope Francis arrives at Baghdad's Saint Joseph Cathedral on the second day of the first papal visit to Iraq on March 6, 2021. Pope Francis made a plea for peace today, telling those gathered at an interreligious service in southern Iraq that he hoped the world would "journey from conflict to unity." Sabah ARAR / AFP
Chief of the Sabean Mandaean community, Sheikh Sattar Jabar Helou (L) and other dignitaries representing Iraq's religious
Chief of the Sabean Mandaean community, Sheikh Sattar Jabar Helou (L) and other dignitaries representing Iraq's religious minorities attend an interfaith service held by Pope Francis (not pictured), at the House of Abraham in the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq's Dhi Qar province, on March 6, 2021. The pontiff's March 5-8 visit, the first ever by a pope to Iraq, will include inter-religious prayers at the ancient city of Ur where the Bible says Abraham, the father of three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was born, and is one of the oldest sites of Mesopotamia. Ayman HENNA / AFP
Pope Francis speaks during an interfaith service with many of Iraq's religious minorities
Pope Francis speaks during an interfaith service with many of Iraq's religious minorities in attendance, at the House of Abraham in the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq's Dhi Qar province, on March 6, 2021. The pontiff's March 5-8 visit, the first ever by a pope to Iraq, includes inter-religious prayers at the ancient city of Ur where the Bible says Abraham, the father of three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was born, and is one of the oldest sites of Mesopotamia. Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP
An Iraqi woman walks in front of a banner welcoming Pope Francis
An Iraqi woman walks in front of a banner welcoming Pope Francis, hung on the wall of the Saint Joseph Chaldean Catholic church, in the capital Baghdad, on February 26, 2021. Pope Francis is set to be in Iraq from March 5 to 8 with an ambitious programme that will take round the country. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP
Iraqi President Barham Saleh welcomes Pope Francis
Iraqi President Barham Saleh welcomes Pope Francis in at the presidential palace in Baghdad's Green Zone, upon his arrival on March 5, 2021 at the start of the first papal visit to Iraq. Pope Francis landed in war-battered Iraq on the first-ever papal visit, defying security fears and the pandemic to comfort one of the world's oldest and most persecuted Christian communities. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
Pope Francis (C) visits Baghdad's Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation
Pope Francis (C) visits Baghdad's Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) at the start of the first ever papal visit to Iraq on March 5, 2021. In an address to the faithful in Baghdad, the pontiff expressed his gratitude to his fellow clergy for supporting Iraq's Christians, whose population has dwindled due to conflict. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

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