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Pope Francis to visit Iraq in early March for first papal visit

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Pope Francis will make the first visit by a pope to Iraq from March 5 to March 8 next year, the Vatican said on Monday, a risky trip that has eluded his predecessors.

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Spokesman Matteo Bruni said Francis, who turns 84 next week, will visit the capital Baghdad, Ur, a city linked to the Old Testament figure of Abraham, as well as Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh.

“The program of the journey will be made known in due course, and will take into consideration the evolution of the worldwide health emergency,” Bruni said in statement.

Francis had hoped to make a trip this year, but his plans were scuppered first by security concerns and then by the coronavirus pandemic.

 Pope Francis, center, delivers his message during his general audience, the first with faithful since February when the coronavirus outbreak broke out, at the San Damaso courtyard, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (AP)
Pope Francis, center, delivers his message during his general audience, the first with faithful since February when the coronavirus outbreak broke out, at the San Damaso courtyard, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (AP)

It will be Francis’ first trip in more than a year. All overseas visits that had been planned for this year were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2000, the late Pope John Paul II wanted to visit the ancient Iraqi city of Ur, traditionally held to be the birthplace of Abraham, the father of all three of the great monotheistic religions - Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

It was to have been the first leg of a three-step pilgrimage to Iraq, Egypt and Israel.

But negotiations with the government of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein broke down and he was unable to go.

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