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Pope Francis Begins Visit to Iraq
An Iraqi soldier walks past a mural depicting Pope Francis waving next to an Iraqi national flag drawn on a blast wall outside the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in the Karrada district of Iraq's capital Baghdad ahead of the pontiff's visit on March 5. (Sabah Arar/AFP via Getty Images)

Pope Francis Begins Visit to Iraq

Pope Francis left Rome Friday on a four-day trip to Iraq. It is the first papal visit to Iraq, and Francis’ first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Iraq has dispatched thousands of additional security officers to protect the pontiff during his visit to four Iraqi provinces. He is scheduled to lead Mass in a church in Baghdad, the site of several rocket attacks in recent weeks. On Wednesday at least 10 rockets struck the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, which hosts US and Iraqi troops. While in Baghdad, Francis is scheduled to meet Iraqi President Barham Salih and other government officials. The pope also will visit Ur, the birthplace of the biblical Abraham.

The pope’s visit will “bring a message of fraternity to the other Iraqi faiths – that religion should not divide but unite and that we are all Iraqis and equal citizens,” Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the Iraqi-born patriarch of the Chaldean Church told reporters on Wednesday.

There are about 300,000 to 400,000 Christians of all denominations living in Iraq.

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