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PA Wire
PA Wire
World News

'I prayed a lot over this': Pope Francis defends his trip to Iraq which drew huge crowds

Pope Francis has defended his trip to Iraq amid criticism for travelling to a country that is currently undergoing a spike in Covid cases. 

Speaking to journalists on the flight back from Baghdad to Rome, the Pontiff said he had "thought about it a lot" and "prayed a lot over this" and believed God would look after those who would go to see him. 

"In the end I took the decision freely. It came from within and I said 'the one who allows me to decide this way will look after the people'."

Pope Francis has been vaccinated, along with the team who went with him on the trip. But many Iraqis have not been inoculated yet and public health experts have raised concerns over the thousands of people who gathered at an outdoor Mass in Erbil stadium on Sunday night saying that it was not sending a response message. 

However, supporters have said it was worth the risk as his visit was very encouraging for Christians in the country, especially given that the ancient community is in decline. 

Authorities in Iraq recorded 4,068 new infections on 6th March, according to health ministry figures, up significantly from infection rates at the start of the year.

In total, 13,500 people have died out of 720,000 infections in Iraq. 

The 84-year-old's historic trip to the country saw him visit five different provinces and meet with Iraq's most senior Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, to strengthen interfaith links. 

The Pope also said he had found this trip more tiring than previous ones stressing that "84 years do not come without baggage" but he felt the trip was like "coming back to life" after spending the last 16 months in lockdown in the Vatican. He also revealed that he is thinking of making a papal visit to Lebanon next as he considers it to be "a country in crisis". 

The Pontiff wrote on Twitter: "Iraq will always remain in my heart. I ask all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to work together, united for a future of peace and prosperity that leaves no one behind and discriminates against no one. I assure you of my prayers for this beloved country."

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