The Pope Visits Iraq for First Time

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Pope Francis plans to visit Iraq starting Friday, and will stay in the country for four days as he makes a tour of six cities. Crowds will not be permitted to gather to hear the pope speak, owing largely to the pandemic, so his meetings with others in the country will be limited to small gatherings at Biblically notable sites. Many have commented that this is likely the most dangerous trip Pope Francis has yet taken. The danger is two-pronged. For one thing, Iraq is currently suffering under another massive spike in COVD-19 cases, making it dangerous for anyone over 60 to travel in the region. And, meanwhile, there has been an uptick in sectarian violence in the region, owing at least partly to Iranian-backed militias squabbling with coalition forces.

Tour Will Be Televised

The Iraqi population of Christians, while far from a majority in the country, are expected to tune in to the Pope’s tour in large numbers. Most people will be relegated to watching from home, however, as the potential for crowds to gather could put both the attendees and Pope Francis in danger. The tour will be historic, as it is a sitting Pope’s first time visiting Iraq. An official in the president’s office told reporters “Pope Francis coming to Iraq highlights the significance of our country for the faithful from all over the world. It is also an affirmation of [the] Pope’s support for peace in Iraq, a testament to the reverence of Iraq’s Christians. This visit comes at a challenging time for Iraq, but we are taking all necessary coronavirus precautions.”

Tour Was Expected to Be Canceled

Many in both Iraq and the Vatican were surprised when the Pope didn’t cancel the trip to the Middle Eastern country over COVID concerns. That, coupled with a recent uptick in politically (and religiously) motivated violence, had many Christians believing the Pope would, understandably, call off the visit. The Pope has stated that he won’t let Iraq’s Christians down, however, and that he has all intentions of visiting the country to lift their spirits. “The people of Iraq are waiting for us. They were waiting for St. Pope John Paul II, who was not allowed to go,” the Pope stated, in reference to a planned trip in 2000 that got canceled over disagreements between the Vatican and Saddam Hussein, who was president at that time. “The people cannot be let down for a second time. Let us pray that this trip can be carried out well.”