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PA Danny Lawson
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PA Danny Lawson
World News

'Iraq's Christians have waited more than 20 years': Iraq's Archbishop eager for papal visit in 2021

Pope Francis will visit Iraq in March 2021, becoming the first-ever Pontiff to make visit the country. 

It will also be the first international trip by the Pope since the coronavirus pandemic started. 

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, which is the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that Christians in the country had long been waiting for the visit to happen. 

"By choosing to come here to Iraq, the first trip of His Holiness since the beginning of the pandemic, Pope Francis will be shining a light on us for all the world to see." 

There are reports that Iraq's Christian population has reduced by at least 80 per cent within a generation, to less than 150,000. 

"To have His Holiness come to visit us now may very well be the thing that saves us" Archbishop Warda said. "We are a people that have been marginalised to the very edge of existence. Certainly, this visit will provide real strength and courage to the Iraqi Christians to remain in our homeland and rebuild here" he continued. 

The Pontiff's trip will last four days and he will visit Iraq's capital Baghdad, Ur - a city considered to be Abraham's birthplace - Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh in Nineveh. 

Stressing the importance of visiting Mosul on the Pope's itinerary, Archbishop Warda said: "This city has such huge symbolic significance - with some of the oldest shrines and monasteries.

"There is so much destruction. By going there and to other places such as Qaraqosh Plains, he is sending a message of hope." 

Archbishop Warda also highlighted how the Pope's trip will have a potential impact on inter-faith relations. 

"The visit will not just be important for the Christians, but for all the minorities of Iraq, including the Yazidis with whom we have shared so much pain in these last years."

Pope Francis had initially scheduled the visit for 2020 following an official invitation by Iraqi President Barham Salih in 2019 but the coronavirus pandemic forced him to cancel all his public engagements.

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