Pope Francis Arrives Iraq to Give Hope To Declining Christian Community

On Friday, Pope Francis arrived in Iraq to support the country’s decreasing number of Christians and advice them to hang on and assist in rebuilding the country after years of crisis and persecution. This will be his first ever papal visit having discarded the fears of the COVID-19 pandemic and security concerns.

He was keenly welcomed by many Iraqis as banners and posters were hung high in central Baghdad, and billboards which had the face of the Pope with the slogan “We are all Brothers”. In addition, the Vatican emblem and flag were seen in strategic areas in the town including the Iraqi flag.

In a statement by Iraqi Foreign Minister, Fuad Hussein, he affirmed that the arrival of Pope Francis for a 3-days visit has been highly anticipated. Among the highlights of the visit was the private meeting of the Pope with Iran’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Spokesman for Iraq’s joint operations, Tahsin al-Khafaji, stated that security forces had been increased. This visit by the Pope will also be an avenue to show that there is now safety and peace in Iraq as it will place them in the spotlight.

Pope Francis is putting a halt in his year-long COVID-19 lockdown to place the world’s attention on a good number of neglected people whose northern Christian communities were affected during the violent Islamic State reign from 2014-2017.

Likewise, the Pope is in Iraq as a way of honoring its martyrs and send a message of reconciliation. The Christians who are left in Iraq are few and they have a long lasting distrust for their Muslim neighbors. Meanwhile, the Christians are also discriminated among the Muslims.

It is pertinent to note that the delegation of the 84-year-old pope has been vaccinated against the virus.

The Vatican and Iraqi authorities have insisted on the need for the enforcement of social distancing, crowd control and other health care measures. The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said that it is important for the Iraqis to know that the Pope travelled to Iraq as an “act of love.”

“I come among you as a pilgrim of peace, to repeat ‘you are all brothers. I come as a pilgrim of peace in search of fraternity, animated by the desire to pray together and walk together, also with brothers and sisters of other religious traditions,” Francis said in a video-message to the Iraqi people on the eve of his visit.

Christians once made up a good number of the population in Iraq. However, the numbers began to reduce after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The number reduced the more in 2014 when IS militants gained entrance in majorly Christian towns across the Nineveh plains. Their extremist brand of Islam compelled residents to run away to the neighboring Kurdish region and beyond.

Some of those persons who fled have returned and they met their houses destroyed as well as their churches. A lot of them cannot find a job for discriminatory reasons in the public sector, which is Iraq's largest employer.

Public jobs have been majorly handled by majority Shiite political elites since 2003. This leaves Christians to feel marginalized.

According to reports in 2003, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Presently, the number is said to be approximately 250,000.

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