By Emily Drooby
A historic moment as the Holy Father descended the stairs of the papal plane and became the first pope to ever set foot in Iraq.
“I am happy to resume my trips,” Pope Francis said while on a plane full of reporters, “and this is an emblematic trip, a duty to this land so martyred for so many years.”
The pope risked both his physical safety and his health, committed to offering hope to the country’s dwindling Christian community plagued by years of war and persecution.
Pope Francis was greeted by dancing, music and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.
The crowds that usually line the streets for a chance to catch a glimpse at the Holy Father were missing due to a pandemic safety measure put into place to avoid spreading COVID-19.
On his busy first day, Pope Francis visited with Iraq President, Barham Salih at the presidential palace. Salih is who initially invited the Holy Father to Iraq back in 2019.
While at the palace, Pope Francis gave his first speech of the trip. In it, he laid out a path to peace which included international support with vaccine distributions; eliminating the idea of second-class citizens; and asking Iraq to be an example for the rest of the Middle East that coexistence is possible.
“Iraq today is called to show everyone, especially in the Middle East, that diversity, instead of giving rise to conflict, should lead to harmonious cooperation in the life of society,” said Pope Francis. (This is a translation).
Pope Francis completed his first day at the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad which is the site of one of the worst massacres against Christians. The 2010 attack was by terrorists from the Islamic State that happened during evening Mass. Fifty-eight people were killed – 48 of them were Catholic people composed of women, children and priests.
Translated to English, Pope Francis said, “We are gathered in this Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, hallowed by the blood of our brothers and sisters who here paid the ultimate price of their fidelity to the Lord and his Church.”
The Holy Father called their deaths a reminder that violence isn’t compatible with authentic religious teaching. The cause for canonization is underway for the 48 Catholics martyred in the attack.