After almost four days, Pope Francis has finished his historic trip to Iraq. On Monday morning, the head of the Catholic Church got on the plane back to Rome. He was expected there in the early afternoon. Francis is the first Pope to travel to Iraq – a visit that the Christians in the north of the country in particular have long wanted.
On Sunday, the 84-year-old flew to them by plane and helicopter. Despite the corona pandemic, crowds of believers had gathered on the streets of Mosul and Qaraqosh to cheer Francis. In Mosul, Francis prayed on the church square, which with its destroyed houses of worship became a symbol of the suffering of Christians during the war against the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS).
Jorge Bergoglio, as Francis’ real name is called, visibly liked the amount of attention and the joy of the people. In the football stadium of the Kurdish capital Erbil he celebrated the last mass of his trip on Sunday afternoon in front of thousands of believers, including a drive into the arena in the popemobile. Religious representatives came together in the plain of Ur, from which, according to biblical traditions, Abraham originated, who is regarded by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the progenitor.
The political and religious part of the trip took place in the days before. Francis visited the highest Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for a conversation in Najaf. The Shiite leader Sistani is considered influential in Iraq, and Francis visited him at home. The Pope had announced that he would travel to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” to give courage to the Christian community – but also to develop dialogue with other religions. The trip was accompanied by a massive security presence.