VATICAN CITY (ITALY) – Citing the reason for his visit to Iraq, where his predecessor John Paul was not allowed to go in 2000, Pope Francis said “the people cannot be let down for a second time.” Francis will start the risky trip in Baghdad on Friday and has asked for prayers so that the visit “can take place in the best possible way and bring about the desired fruits”.
“For some time I have wanted to meet those people who suffered so much, and meet that martyred Church,” Francis said. “The people of Iraq are waiting for us. They were waiting for St. Pope John Paul II, who was not allowed to go. The people cannot be let down for a second time. Let us pray that this trip can be carried out well,” he added. However, he made no mention of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. “In the land of Abraham, together with other religious leaders, we also will take another step forward in fraternity among believers,” he further added.
Iraq’s minority Christian community has been devastated by wars and repression by Islamic State insurgents. Francis will visit the former Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, where churches still bear the signs of conflict.
Francis will also visit Ur, birthplace of the prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Moslems and Jews, and meet Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, 90.
“In the land of Abraham, together with other religious leaders, we also will take another step forward in fraternity among believers,” Francis said.