Pope Francis greets Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, in Tbilisi, Georgia, in this Sept. 30, 2016, file photo. Sako said the Church in Iraq is working with the government to prepare for Pope Francis’ planned March 5-8 visit to Iraq. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis still plans to visit Iraq

  • February 4, 2021

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis said that unless there is a serious new wave of COVID-19 infections in Iraq, he has every intention of visiting the country in early March.

Even if social distancing requirements mean most Iraqis will see the papal events only on television, he said, “they will see that the Pope is there in their country. I am the pastor of people who are suffering,” Pope Francis told Catholic News Service Feb. 1.

Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, told reporters Jan. 28 that Pope Francis’ March trip to Iraq is still on and that the Pope plans to meet personally with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, leader of the country’s Shiite Muslim majority.

The Vatican has said Pope Francis plans to visit Iraq March 5-8 but has not released details about the Pope’s schedule. The information provided by Cardinal Sako is considered provisional until confirmed by the Vatican.

Adel Bakawan, an Iraq expert at the French Institute of International Relations, told reporters that the 90-year-old al-Sistani is an “indisputable reference for all Iraqi Shiites” and that his “fatwas” or judgments are followed to the letter, the French Catholic newspaper La Croix reported.

St. John Paul II had hoped and planned to go to Iraq in 2000, particularly to visit the city of Ur, birthplace of Abraham, recognized as the patriarch of faith in one God by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Tensions in the region made the trip impossible, and St. John Paul “wept” that he could not go, Pope Francis said, adding that he does not want to disappoint the people a second time.

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