Pope Francis's trip to Iraq is dangerous, says Benedict XVI

Francis set to become the first Pope to visit Iraq on Friday

FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014 file photo, Pope Francis, right, hugs Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI prior to the start of a meeting with elderly faithful in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has marked the eighth anniversary of his historic resignation by insisting in an interview published in Corriere della Sera Monday, March 1, 2021, that he stepped down knowingly and that “there is only one pope” _ Francis. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

Pope Francis's visit to Iraq is dangerous,  Benedict XVI said on Monday.

Pope Francis is set to embark on a three-day trip to Iraq that will take him to six cities as the country, ravaged by years of conflict, faces a second deadly wave of coronavirus infections and renewed violence.

"I think it's a very important trip," Benedict, the 93-year-old pope emeritus, who lives in a monastery in the Vatican City, told the Corriere della Sera daily.

"Unfortunately, it comes at a very difficult time, which also makes it a dangerous trip: for reasons of security and for coronavirus. And then there's the unstable situation in Iraq.”

“I will accompany Francis with my prayers,” he said.

Pope Francis, 84, plans to voice solidarity with Iraq's Christian minority who have been persecuted since the US-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

He is expected to become the first Pope to visit Iraq on Friday.

The Vatican has reserved the right to postpone the visit at the last minute since it was announced in December.

Francis has been vaccinated against coronavirus.

The Vatican's ambassador to Iraq, Mitja Leskovar, tested positive for the virus on Sunday but the trip appears to be going ahead as planned.

Pope Francis is fulfilling the dream of a predecessor, John Paul II.

The Pope will arrive in Baghdad on Friday and will visit the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of the three monotheistic religions.

He will travel north to Mosul and the visit the Christian town of Qaraqosh, and the Kurdish capital of Erbil.

Years of wars and conflict have shrunk the Christian community, one of the world's oldest, from 1.5 million in 2003 to at least 400,000 today.

Iraq’s Christian community is one of the oldest and most diverse in the world, with Chaldeans and other Catholics making up around half, along with Armenian Orthodox, Protestants and others.

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