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Pope Continues Historic Middle East Trip
Pope Francis is greeted by people as he arrives at the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, in the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh (Bakhdida), in Nineveh province, some 30 kilometers from Iraq's northern city of Mosul, March 7, 2021. (Vincenzo Pinto /AFP via Getty Images)

Pope Continues Historic Middle East Trip

Pope Francis on Sunday continued his historic four-day tour of Iraq, visiting areas that until recently were held by Islamic State and were largely purged of Christian features. The pope held a prayer among the church ruins in Mosul and later led thousands in a Mass in the city of Irbil. The weekend trip is the pope’s first international excursion since the coronavirus pandemic began, and also the first-ever papal visit to Iraq. The 84-year-old head of the Catholic Church met with the country’s Kurdish community leader, a day after his summit with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader of the world’s Shia Muslims. Francis also toured the ancient city of Ur, believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, biblical father of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Less than 250,000 Christians have remained in Iraq, over a million fewer than were living there two decades ago. Most have fled to escape the violence directed against them after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and during the ISIS years.

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