Pope Francis touched down on Friday for a historic visit to Iraq where he will urge the country's dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns to make his first-ever papal visit.
The pope, who wore a face mask during the flight, kept it on as he descended the stairs to the tarmac and was greeted by two masked children in traditional dress. He was visibly limping in a sign his sciatica, which has flared and forced him to cancel events recently, was possibly bothering him.
He has a packed schedule during his four-day visit, meeting officials, Christians and the Iraqi people in the capital, the south and the north.
After spending Friday afternoon meeting officials at the Presidential Palace, he will spend the evening at the Lady of Salvation church – the site of a deadly terror attack in 2010.
Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein 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 Pope's visit is a private meeting Saturday with the country's top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, a revered figure in Iraq and beyond.
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Mosul prepares for Pope Francis
Pope Francis holds interfaith meeting in Ur
Pope Francis meets Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani
Gifts for Pope Francis
Pope Francis at Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad
Pope Francis at Iraqi Presidential Palace
Iraq prime minister greets Pope Francis in Baghdad
Pope Francis leaves Rome
Pope Francis will visit Ur
On Saturday, he will visit the historic site of Ur, which is thought to be where the patriarch Abraham was from.
Iraq prepares for Pope Francis
Christians across the country prepared for the Pope's arrival as roads were repaved, streets cleaned and greenery pruned before the big visit.
Papal visits to the Middle East
It's not the first papal visit to the region.