Pope Francis announced an unprecedented excursion next March, traveling to war-torn Iraq in what will be the first visit by a pope to the Middle Eastern country. Francis, who turns 84 next week, will visit the capital Baghdad, as well as the southern city of Ur, birthplace of Abraham, and Mosul, among other places. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the three-day trip, planned at the invitation of the Iraqi government, was tentatively set for March 5, pending coronavirus constraints. Francis has not traveled overseas since November 2019 because of the pandemic. Iraqi President Barham Salih tweeted out Monday that the visit “will be a message of peace to Iraqis of all religions & serve to affirm our common values of justice & dignity.” The approximately 700,000 Christians living in Iraq today have in recent years endured the rise and fall of the brutal Islamic State rule, and many still look to migrate to safer shores, according to human rights organizations.
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