The Vatican confirms Pope Francis’ first trip abroad since the pandemic, Iraq qualifies it as a “historic event”.
Pope Francis will become the first pope to visit Iraq next year, on a trip to five locations including Baghdad, Erbil and Mosul between March 5 and March 8, the Vatican said.
“The program of the trip will be made public in due course and will take into account the evolution of the global health emergency,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement on Monday.
The pope, who turns 84 next week, will also visit Qaraqosh in Nineveh province, Bruni added.
This will be Francis’ first trip in over a year. All overseas visits that were scheduled for this year have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Message of peace’
The Iraqi government welcomed the Vatican statement, saying the pontiff’s visit will be a “historic event”.
“It symbolizes a message of peace to Iraq and the whole region,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
President Barham Saleh formally invited Pope Francis to visit Iraq in July 2019, hoping it would help the country “heal” after years of conflict.
About 100,000 Christians are left in Iraq following a sectarian war following the 2003 invasion led by the United States and ISIL (ISIL) that swept over a third of the country in 2014.
In 2000, the late Pope John Paul II wanted to visit the ancient Iraqi city of Ur, traditionally considered the birthplace of Abraham, the father of the three monotheistic or Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
It was to be the first step of a three-step pilgrimage to Iraq, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territory.
But negotiations with the government of then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein failed and he was unable to attend.