Baghdad [Iraq], March 6 (ANI): Pope Francis, arrived in Iraq on Friday (local time) for a historic four-day tour of the war-torn country and will meet with its top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a popular Shia Muslim figure, on Saturday.
"I am happy to start trips again and this is a symbolic trip. It's a duty...It has been a martyred land for too long," the Pope said on his first overseas trip since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is a significant trip as this is the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, which is considered the homeland of Abraham.
According to CNN, the pontiff on Friday held meetings with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih.
He also met with the clerics and other officials at a Baghdad church, which was the site of the bloody 2010 massacre that killed 51 congregants and two priests.
The key part of Pope Francis's itinerary is his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which is expected by some to serve as the Shia Muslim component of the pontiff's efforts to bolster interfaith relations, CNN said.
While welcoming the Pope, Iraqi President Barham Salih said: "Holy Father, we are healing our wounds, and here you are, healing our wounds with us".
The Pope has called his visit to Iraq as a "pilgrim".
"I come as a penitent, asking forgiveness of heaven and my brothers and sisters for so much destruction and cruelty...I come as a pilgrim of peace in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace. How much we have prayed in these years for peace in Iraq," he said.
The Pope sat on a throne under a towering collage of the parish members who died in the terrorist attack, CNN reported.
"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 pontiff said.
It is important to note that it was earlier speculated that the Pope would cancel his visit to Iraq amid the surge in coronavirus cases and recent new rocket attacks. However, he had reiterated that his visit would go as per the schedule.
"For some time I have wanted to meet that people who suffered so much...The people of Iraq are waiting for us. They were waiting for St. Pope John Paul II, who was not allowed to go," he had said while referring to the trip planned in 2000 that was later canceled after a breakdown in talks between the Vatican and then Iraq President Saddam Hussein.
According to CNN, Iraq has imposed a total curfew for the entirety of the four-day papal visit in an attempt to minimize health and security risks. (ANI)