Pope Francis leaves Iraq after historic first-ever papal visit that sought to bring hope to the country’s Christian minority
- Francis and his entourage were waved off by Iraq’s president at Baghdad airport
- He will fly back to Rome after covering more than 900 miles on his four-day trip
- The 84-year-old pontiff urged Iraqis to embrace diversity and reject extremism
Pope Francis left Iraq today at the end of a historic four-day visit which went off without a hitch despite security fears and a second wave of coronavirus cases in the country.
The pope and his entourage boarded a plane at Baghdad Airport this morning where Iraqi president Barham Salih waved him off following the first-ever papal visit to Iraq.
Francis will fly back to Rome after covering more than 900 miles on his whirlwind tour of Iraq, bringing comfort to its diminished Christian population and reaching out to the Shiite majority in a meeting with top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
In a series of speeches the 84-year-old pontiff urged Iraqis to embrace diversity and made a rousing call for an end to violence and extremism after years of strife following the US-led invasion and ISIS’s self-declared ‘caliphate’.
Pope Francis boards the papal plane before departing Baghdad International Airport to return to the Vatican on Monday
Iraqi president Barham Salih and his wife Sarbagh Salih accompany Pope Francis in a farewell ceremony at Baghdad’s airport today before the pontiff returned to Rome
The Christian community of Iraq has shrunk from 1.5million before the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to only 400,000 now.
Francis’s last full day in Iraq saw the heaviest security deployment of the entire trip as he landed in northern Iraq to visit Christians who endured the brutality of ISIS.
In the city of Mosul, which was overrun by ISIS terrorists, Francis prayed in a square containing the remnants of four churches that were nearly destroyed in the fighting.
Francis said the ‘tragic’ exodus of Christians ‘does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind’.
Concluding his final public event on Sunday, Francis said: ‘In my time among you, I have heard voices of sorrow and loss, but also voices of hope and consolation’.
‘Now the time draws near for my return to Rome. Yet Iraq will always remain with me, in my heart.’
Also on Sunday, Francis met the father of drowned toddler Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body on a Turkish beach became a symbol of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015.
‘The Pope spoke for a long time with Abdullah Kurdi, and was able to hear the pain of a father who has lost his family,’ said a statement by the Vatican.
A red carpet was laid out for the pope and the Iraqi head of state before Francis boarded the Alitalia plane from Baghdad back to Italy on Monday
The papal plane takes off from Baghdad on Monday following the successful four-day trip which went off without a hitch despite security fears
The pope is flanked by the Iraqi president and his wife during his farewell ceremony in Baghdad on Monday morning
In his packed three full days in Iraq, the Pope made more than a half-dozen speeches in nearly as many cities, repeatedly evoking hope and fraternity.
People gathered in crowds to catch a glimpse of the pope wherever he went, fueling coronavirus concerns.
In Baghdad on Friday, Francis called for an end to violence and extremism and urged officials to do more to fight corruption.
Francis called the minority Yazidis ‘innocent victims of senseless and brutal atrocities,’ following the Islamic State group’s rampage against their esoteric community in 2014.
He also met members of Iraq’s other minorities in a moving interfaith ceremony at Ur, where the Prophet Abraham is thought to have been born.
On Saturday, he held an extraordinary meeting with the reclusive but highly respected Sistani, who afterwards said Iraq’s Christians should have the right to live in ‘peace.’
Sistani’s rare but powerful political interventions have helped shape present-day Iraq, and his meeting with the pontiff had been negotiated for months.
On Sunday, Pope Francis spoke at the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in the old city of Iraq’s northern Mosul
The pope prayed for those killed in Iraq’s war as he arrived to the battle-scarred city of Mosul and released a dove in front of crowds
Pope Francis met Abdullah Kurdi, whose three-year-old son Alan Kurdi died while trying to reach Europe during the migrant crisis six years ago