The Iraqi government is responsible for the pope’s safety and that of his entourage during the visit.
Despite challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and security concerns, Pope Francis hopes to visit Iraq, an opportunity that eluded his predecessors.
Iraqis are excited that he is scheduled to come, despite those concerns.
“Iraqi Christians are very much optimistic because it’s a sign of hope and solidarity despite the pandemic, despite the security challenge. It’s a strong sign of solidarity,” Iraqi Father Emanuel Youkhana told Catholic News Service by phone from the northern city of Dahuk. Father Youkhana is a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East.
The 84-year-old pope, newly vaccinated, is moving forward with his March 5-8 trip unless there is a serious new wave of coronavirus infection there. It marks his first foreign trip since being grounded for 16 months due to the pandemic.
Pope Francis told Catholic News Service staffers at the Vatican it is important that the Iraqis “will see the pope is there in their country,” even if most would see him only on television because of social distancing requirements.
It’s the first-of-its kind visit by the pope after St. John Paul II’s scheduled trip to Iraq in 2000 had to be canceled due to regional tensions. St. John Paul wept that he could not go, as he especially wanted to visit the city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, recognized as the patriarch of faith in one God by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
In mid-2019, Pope Francis announced that he intended to make his first visit to Iraq the following year, but the trip was postponed amid regional tensions and ongoing anti-government protests across the southern and central parts of the country. The pope told CNS in early February that he does not want to disappoint the Iraqis for a second time.
Iraq is set to receive thousands of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in addition to the Chinese Sinovac vaccine this month. In early February, the Iraqi Health Ministry reported 1,134 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 628,550.
On Jan. 21, the day after the Vatican announced plans for the papal trip to Iraq, two suicide bombers detonated explosive vests in a crowded market in central Baghdad, an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. At least 32 people died and more than 100 were injured.
Shortly afterward, Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, called on the faithful to fast and pray for peace in Iraq and for an end to the pandemic. He dismissed the significance of the bombing on the overall security situation in Iraq and said, “There is no risk for the pope.”
By: Dale Gavlak
Source: Catholic News Service