Pope Francis has known as for an finish to “violence and extremism” in his opening handle on the first-ever papal go to to Iraq, lengthy scarred by conflict and now gripped by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 84-year-old defied a second wave of the worldwide pandemic and renewed safety fears to make a “long-awaited” journey to consolation one of many world’s oldest Christian communities, whereas additionally deepening his dialogue with Muslims.
“May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance,” urged Francis within the stirring handle on the presidential palace in Baghdad on Friday.
Francis landed within the afternoon at Baghdad International Airport, the place he was greeted by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, in addition to teams showcasing Iraq’s various folklore music and dance.
He then met President Barham Salih – who had prolonged the official invitation to the pontiff in 2019 – in addition to different authorities and non secular figures.
At the palace, the top of the world’s 1.three billion Catholics gave a shifting handle, stressing the deep roots of Christianity in Iraq.
“The age-old presence of Christians in this land, and their contributions to the life of the nation, constitute a rich heritage that they wish to continue to place at the service of all,” mentioned Pope Francis.
He additionally urged Iraqi officers to “combat the scourge of corruption, misuse of power and disregard for law” in a rustic persistently ranked probably the most corruption-tainted by Transparency International.
The pope, a distinguished advocate for interfaith dialogue, additionally hailed different devastated Iraqi minorities.
“Here, among so many who have suffered, my thoughts turn to the Yazidis, innocent victims of senseless and brutal atrocities,” he mentioned.
Just like Iraq’s Christian inhabitants, the esoteric Yazidi neighborhood was ravaged in 2014 when ISIL (ISIS) swept by means of a lot of northern Iraq.
‘Victory’ over loss of life
The go to is the pontiff’s first journey overseas for the reason that starting of the coronavirus pandemic, which had left him feeling “caged” in Vatican City – and it has been hailed as a daring selection.
Iraq endured a long time of conflict, continues to be trying to find ISIL cells and is now going through a second spike of coronavirus infections, with greater than 5,000 new instances and dozens of deaths day by day.
Authorities have imposed a full lockdown by means of the papal journey, which implies Francis is not going to be greeted by huge crowds like on different overseas journeys.
The pope has been vaccinated and was seen taking off his masks on Friday to talk with officers and non secular figures in Baghdad, simply days after Iraq launched its modest inoculation marketing campaign.
“I’ll try to follow directions and not shake hands with everyone, but I don’t want to stay too far,” Francis mentioned earlier than his arrival.
Commenting on the handle, Eleanor Robson, who specialises in historic Middle Eastern Science on the University of Cambridge, informed Al Jazeera the go to was important in that it was “finally a chance to present Iraq in a very different way”.
Speaking from Baghdad, Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn mentioned whereas the pope “principally targeted on the religious aspect of issues, he additionally hinted at some governance points corresponding to corruption and lack of justice that are of nice concern particularly to Iraqi minorities just like the Christians.
“He is very much here to inspire hope and foster peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims.”
He was additionally seen strolling with a slight limp, possible a results of a painful bout of sciatica that he has suffered this yr.
The pope will travel greater than 1,400km (870 miles) by airplane and helicopter, flying over areas the place safety forces are nonetheless battling ISIL.
For shorter journeys, Francis will take an armoured automotive on freshly paved roads lined with flowers and posters welcoming him warmly as “Baba al-Vatican”.
He will handle the trustworthy in a while Friday afternoon on the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad’s business Karrada district, the place attendance has been restricted to permit for social distancing.
In 2010, armed teams stormed the church and killed 44 worshippers, two clergymen and lots of safety personnel in one of many bloodiest assaults on Iraq’s Christians.
Now, stained-glass home windows on the church bear the victims’ names and a defiant message above the altar reads, “Where is your victory, oh death?”
The pontiff may even go to Ur, the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, who’s revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and meet Iraq’s revered prime Shia Muslim chief, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
The assembly with al-Sistani, who wields nice affect over Iraq’s Shia majority and within the nation’s politics, would be the first by a pope.