The Pope Departs From Rome For Historic First-Ever Visit By A Pontiff To Iraq

The Pope Departs From Rome For Historic First-Ever Visit By A Pontiff To Iraq. image. Pixabay

The Pope Departs From Rome For Historic First-Ever Visit By A Pontiff To Iraq Just Days After A Rocket Attack On A Military Base.

Pope Francis left Rome today, Friday, to start a four-day trip to Iraq, his most risky foreign trip since his election in 2012 and the first visit by a pontiff to the country. The Pontiff’s visit comes just days after at least 10 rockets targeted a military base in western Iraq that hosts about 2,000 US troops.

A US defence official told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin there were no reported casualties among US or coalition troops, but one American civilian contractor, who had taken cover in a bunker on the base, died of a heart attack during the rocket strike.

An Alitalia flight carrying the pope, his entourage, a security detail, and about 75 journalists, left Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport for the 4-1/2-hour flight to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Iraq is deploying thousands of additional security personnel to protect Francis during the visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks raised fears for the Catholic leader’s safety.

The trip marks the first-ever visit by a pope to Iraq. John Paul II had planned to go in 1999 but abandoned the trip amid security concerns and political pressure. Pope Francis boarded an Alitalia flight from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport on Friday bound for the Iraqi capital Baghdad – where he will complete a three-day tour.

Hours after the rocket attack, the pope reaffirmed he would still be going to Iraq. The 84-year-old will visit four cities, including the former Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, where churches and other buildings still bear the scars of conflict.

Francis will also visit Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and meet Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Before leaving the Vatican the pope met 12 refugees from Iraq who have been living in Italy. The trip is the pope’s 33rd outside Italy – he is due to return to Rome on Monday morning.


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Tony Winterburn

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