Daily US Times: On Friday, Pope Francis was headed to Iraq to urge the country’s dwindling number of Christian population to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the Covid-19 pandemic and security concerns to make his first-ever papal visit.
Iraqis were keen to welcome the Pope and the global attention his visit will bring, with posters and banners hanging high in central Baghdad, and billboards depicting the Pope with the slogan “We are all Brothers” decorating the main thoroughfare.
A mock tree was erected emblazoned with the Vatican emblem in central Tahrir square, while Iraqi and Vatican flags lined empty streets.
Fuad Hussein, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, said Iraqis were eager to welcome Francis’ “message of peace and tolerance” and described the visit as a historic meeting between the “minaret and the bells.”
Among the highlights of the three-day visit is Francis’ private meeting Saturday with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a revered figure in Iraq and beyond.
The Iraqi government is eager to show off the relative security it has achieved after years of militant attacks and wars that nevertheless continue even today.
Pope Francis and the Vatican delegation are relying on Iraqi security forces to protect them, including with the expected first use of an armored car for the popemobile-loving pontiff.
A spokesman for Iraq’s joint operations named Tahsin al-Khafaji said security forces had been increased.