Pope Francis is set to visit the ancient Iraqi city of Ur during his historic trip to the country next week.
The pope will host an inter-religious service in the city, in modern-day Dhi Qar governorate, in southern Iraq.
It is said to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, who is revered by all Abrahamic faiths.
"Pope Francis will pray and meet with the leaders or representatives of all religions in Iraq to promote dialogue and co-existence among these components," Auxiliary Bishop Basel Yaldo of Baghdad, who is the Catholic Church's general co-ordinator for the trip, told The National.
The gathering will be attended by Muslims and Christians, and other religious groups present in Iraq, including Mandaean-Sabaeans and Yazidis.
Named the Prayer for the Sons and Daughters of Abraham, the service will focus on promoting peace and harmony between Iraq's religious groups.
“Ur is the highlight of the visit because Abraham represents the sign of unity for all who inhabit this land,” Bishop Yaldo said.
“It will be a symbol of unity for all religions.”
Why is Ur so important?
The ruins of the southern city, which date back to 6,000 BC, lie on a former course of the Euphrates and Ur is one of Iraq's oldest archaeological sites.
Nearly 5,000 years ago, Ur was the last capital of the Sumerian royal dynasties. It is considered a place where writing, central state power and urban dwelling started.
It is also the site of a 4,000-year-old Sumerian temple, known as the Ziggurat, an adjacent residential complex and palaces.
The Bible mentions that Ur was the home city of Abraham and the centre of a wealthy empire.
It drew traders from as far away as the Mediterranean, 1,200 kilometres to the west, and the Indus civilisation – called Meluhha by ancient Iraqis – 2,400 kilometres to the east.
British archaeologist Leonard Woolley excavated the site in the 1920s and 1930s, discovering a royal cemetery with more than 2,000 burials. He excavated an array of gold helmets, crowns and jewellery, dating to about 2,600 BC.
At the time, the discovery rivalled that of Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt.
Iraqi and American archaeologists returned to the site in 2015 for the first large-scale digs there in decades.
Iraq has nearly 12,000 registered archaeological sites, but many are poorly guarded and face problems with looting, as well as erosion.
Pope Francis's visit to Iraq is planned for March 5 to March 8.
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