Pope lands in Iraqi capital for historic first visit
Head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, arrived in Iraq on Friday and is due to deliver speeches in the capital Baghdad.
With a message of inter-faith tolerance, Pope Francis will spend four days in Iraq as his first foreign trip in more than a year and the first-ever papal trip to the war-hit nation, Tasnim News Agency reported.
The Pope will visit the capital city Baghdad, the holy city of Najaf in the south of the country, the ancient birthplace of Prophet Abraham (Peace be upon him) at Ur, and the city of Mosul in the north, which became the capital of the Daesh (ISIL) terrorists in 2014 until its defeat in 2017.
Iraqis have been keen to welcome him, with banners and posters hanging high in central Baghdad, and billboards depicting Pope Francis with the slogan "We are all Brothers" decorating the main thoroughfare.
In a video address before leaving the Vatican, the Pope said: "I have greatly desired to meet you, to see your faces and to visit your country, an ancient and outstanding cradle of civilization.
In Mosul, which was liberated from Daesh in 2017, the Pope will hold a vigil in Hosh al Bieaa (Church Square) where he will pray for the victims of war.
He will then head east to the town of Qaraqosh for a Sunday service of prayers and remembrance at the Immaculate Conception Church.
Before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, an estimated 1.5 million Christians lived in the country.
Today, only about 200,000 are remaining as the rest have been driven out due to the violence in the country.