Pope Francis arrives in Baghdad at start of four-day visit

BAGHDAD, Iraq (NBC) – Pope Francis has arrived in Iraq for the first visit to that country and the pontiff’s first international trip since the pandemic began.

With recent tensions and rocket strikes, security is extremely tight there.

Pope Francis arrived in Baghdad with a message of peace and a mission to revive Iraq’s ancient and dwindling Christian community.

His first stop: meeting with Iraqi government officials.

For many, the Pope’s visit is a badge of honor, a sign this country is slowly emerging from its long civil war that began after the U.S. invasion in 2003, a war of violent religious extremists who often targeted Christians and drove them from their homes.

The pope will visit a church where an al-Qaeda affiliate massacred dozens of worshipers and two priests a decade ago.

The Adam family who lives nearby was traumatized by that attack. Lourisa was so scared she stopped going to school. Her mother said most of the family moved abroad. “As Christians, we’re always afraid,” she said.

The pope will visit the city of Mosul, much of it still in ruins from battles with ISIS. He’ll tour a Christian village ISIS took over, desecrating its church.

But it is not all a tour of past miseries. He’ll go to the ancient Sumerian capital of Ur, believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The final stop of what the Vatican is calling a pilgrimage of peace: a large mass in the relatively safe Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where Friday they’re making final preparations.

The President of Iraq said that he’s not just proud of this visit, he thinks that it could be a real turning point. Hundreds of thousands of

Iraqis died in this country’s civil war and fighting between religious and ethnic groups, and he’s encouraged that the pope is coming here with a message of reconciliation and that that message is also being echoed by the Iraqis that he’s meeting.

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