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Pope leaves Iraq for Rome after 4-day visit


Pope Francis departed Iraq on Monday after a four-day visit which included meetings with Christians and Muslim leaders to bring hope to the country with a message of coexistence, forgiveness and peace, according to voanews.com.

The four-day trip, which began on Friday, was the pontiff’s first international excursion since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago, and the first-ever papal visit to Iraq. The visit to Iraq was the pope’s 33rd trip outside Italy and his first in the last 15 months, due mostly to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, the 84-year-old pope met with the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani at the 90-year-old Muslim leader’s modest home in Najaf.

On Sunday, the pope visited Mosul, a once stronghold of the Islamic State militant group, where he prayed for Iraq’s war victims in a city square.
Pope Francis also travelled to Qaraqosh, an ancient Christian town that had been overrun by Islamic State forces. The pope met with members of the local community at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

He also celebrated an open-air Mass on Sunday at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil and because of COVID-19 restrictions, attendance was limited to 10,000 people.

Public health experts had expressed concerns ahead of the trip that large gatherings could serve as super-spreader events for the coronavirus in a country suffering from a worsening outbreak where few have been vaccinated. The pope and members of his delegation have been vaccinated but most Iraqis have not.

At every turn of his trip, Pope Francis urged Iraqis to live together in peace. 

The pontiff and his travelling delegation were seen off with a farewell ceremony at the Baghdad airport, from where he left for Rome following a four-day papal visit that has covered five provinces across Iraq.