Pontiff raises possibility that trip may be canceled, depending on the COVID-19 pandemic.
In December, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will make an apostolic visit to Iraq in March — his first overseas trip since November 2019, when restrictions imposed because of the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of various trips.
The trip was seen as risky from the start, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm with which Christians in Iraq received the news.
On Sunday, however, comments Pope Francis made during a television interview added a realistic note of caution. He acknowledged that he had canceled two international trips in 2020, “because in conscience I cannot cause gatherings, can I?”
And then he added, somewhat ominously, “Now I don’t know if the next trip to Iraq will take place.”
On Thursday, Iraq’s only Catholic cardinal — Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako — called on the faithful to begin praying the following prayer for the papal visit, beginning this Sunday, January 17:
Lord our God, grant Pope Francis health and safety to carry out successfully this eagerly awaited visit. Bless his effort to promote dialogue, enhance fraternal reconciliation, build confidence, consolidate peace values and human dignity, especially for us Iraqis who have been through painful “events” that affected our lives. Lord, our Creator, enlighten our hearts with Your light, to recognize goodness and peace, and to realize them. Mother Mary, we entrust Pope Francis’ visit to your maternal care so that the Lord may grant us the grace of living in a complete national communion, and cooperate fraternally to build a better future for our country and our citizens. Amen.
Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq is scheduled for March 5-8 and is expected to include stops in Baghdad, Mosul, Erbil, and the Nineveh Plain, where Christians were forced out of their villages by the advancing Islamic State group in 2014.
He also is expected to go to Ur in southern Iraq, which the Bible records as the birthplace of Abraham. There, he is expected to attend an interreligious gathering with Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
If the trip takes place, Francis will be the first pope to visit Iraq.