Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq, from 5th-8th March, will make him the first pontiff to ever visit the country. He will be fulfilling not only a personal goal but also the dream of popes before him who longed to step foot in the land that was the birthplace of Abraham. Pope Francis first mentioned the idea during a meeting with Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches in 2019, but because of COVID-19 this trip was delayed until now.
The Pope will first arrive in Baghdad where he will meet Iraqi President Barham Salih and then travel across the country to Najaf. He will step foot in the birthplace of Abraham for an interreligious meeting at Ur, and pay a visit to the Nineveh Plains to see first-hand where Daesh (ISIS) carried out its genocide against Christians and Yazidis.
As ACN has previously reported, the Christian presence in Iraq has been drastically diminished in the past two decades. During the time of Saddam Hussein, there were 1.4 million Christians in the country, but today – following Daesh’s seizure of swathes of northern Iraq – there are no more than 250,000, and the number of Christians is still falling.
Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that Iraq’s political situation is an issue of personal concern to him. His visit is being internationally recognized as a symbol of peace and tolerance. Cardinal Vincent Nichols has encouraged people in the West to learn more about Iraq and the persecution our brothers and sisters there are faced with. Cardinal Nichols stated that this papal visit is a chance for us to “Enter into the country… with heart and mind”.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of ACN UK, said “I warmly welcome Cardinal Nichols’ call for solidarity with the faithful and the people of Iraq. Through its project aid is showing solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters, and the practical help we are providing gives them much-needed hope.”