Pope Francis has on Friday called for an end to “violence and extremism” in his opening address on the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, long scarred by war and now gripped by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 84-year-old defied a second wave of the global pandemic and renewed security fears to make a “long-awaited” trip to comfort one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, while also extending his dialogue with Muslim Community.
He also urged Iraq officials to “fight against the act of corruption, misuse of power and disregard for law” in a country consistently ranked one of the most corruption-tainted by Transparency International.
“Here, among so many who have suffered, my thoughts turn to the Yazidis, innocent victims of senseless and brutal atrocities,” he said.
The visit is the pontiff’s first trip abroad since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which had left him feeling “caged” in Vatican City – and it has been hailed as a bold choice.
Authorities have imposed a full lockdown through the visit which means the Pope will not be greeted by massive crowds like on other foreign trips.
The pope has since been vaccinated and was seen taking off his mask on Friday to speak with officials and religious figures in Baghdad, just days after Iraq launched its modest inoculation campaign.