Catholic Pope Francis embarks on four-day visit to Iraq

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Visit will be pontiff’s first ever to country and first overseas visit since start of COVID-19 pandemic.

Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to several parts of Iraq from March 5-8 in his first-ever visit to the country.

The Pope will be welcomed in an official ceremony at Baghdad International Airport.

Francis will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi in a hall at the airport where special figures are hosted.

Later, he will be welcomed by Iraqi President Barham Salih at an official ceremony in the Green Zone in Baghdad, which hosts Iraqi government buildings and many foreign embassies.

Francis is scheduled to meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations and diplomats.

He will visit Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral in Baghdad, where dozens of people were killed in a terrorist attack in 2010 during a religious ritual.

The Pope is expected to make a speech and meet with Catholic and Syriac opinion leaders there.

On the second day of his visit, Francis will travel to Najaf province, where he will meet with top Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani. The meeting will be closed to the press.

Francis will also visit the ancient city of Ur, which lies on the outskirts of the modern city of Nasiriyah.

Ur was an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia which is believed to be the birthplace of Prophet Abraham.

There, the pontiff will address the world by making a speech on interfaith tolerance.

He will return to Baghdad in the evening to hold a religious ceremony at St. Joseph’s Chaldean Church.

On Sunday, Francis will visit Erbil, the capital of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The spiritual leader of the Catholic world will be welcomed by Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government President Nechirvan Barzani as well as some religious and government officials at Erbil airport.

After his meeting with Barzani at the airport, Francis will travel to Mosul by helicopter.

Later, he will visit the Karkush region in Mosul, where a large Christian population resides, and will make a speech there.

It will be the pontiff’s first overseas visit since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

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