Francis is the first Pontiff to arrive in Iraq, in the land of Abraham, the father of monotheistic religions. The Pope, strictly in a mask, on arrival at Baghdad International Airport, is greeted by Prime Minister Mustafa Abdellatif Mshatat, known as Al-Kadhimi. His handshake is maintained despite the health emergency. Two children in traditional dress deliver a floral tribute to the Pope. After the presentation of the respective delegations and the guard of honor, Bergoglio and the prime minister go to the airport VIP lounge for a brief private meeting.
It is an armored Baghdad that is welcoming Francis in the first minutes of arrival. The streets are dotted with military and police, even with armored vehicles. Some military helicopters fly over the sky. Immediately outside the airport, however, small crowds of people were seen with Iraqi and Vatican flags and “welcome” signs for Pope Francis. The rest of the city is practically empty, almost all the shops are closed and there are no people in the streets. Iraq is currently in lockdown due to the pandemic.
At 3 pm local time (1 pm Italian time) Francis will arrive at the presidential palace in Baghdad where he will be welcomed by the President of the Republic of Iraq, Barham Ahmed Salih Qassim, and his wife. After the performance of the hymns and the presentation of the respective delegations, Francis will receive a floral tribute from two children.
Official photo, and then together with the President of the Republic and his wife, he will go to the studio where the courtesy visit takes place. After the private meeting and the presentation of the family, the President will accompany the Pope to the room where the exchange of gifts takes place. At the end of the courtesy visit they will go to the large hall of the presidential palace where there will be a meeting with the authorities, representatives of civil society and members of the diplomatic corps.
The Hymn to Joy for hospitality
Upon arrival at Baghdad airport, Pope Francis was greeted by the notes of Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy, performed by a band of the Iraqi armed forces. Bergoglio, who was wearing a mask, took off his skullcap before stepping off the airplane ladder. On the red guide the Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq, Mustafa Abdellatif Mshatat.
On board the plane
Pope Francis considers it “a duty” to go to Iraq, “a martyred land”: he said this on board the plane, somehow reassuring the fears of a visit that takes place during the Covid-19 pandemic and despite the latest missile attacks against the foundations of the international coalition. The Bishop of Rome is “happy to resume traveling, and this symbolic journey is also a duty towards a land that has been martyred for years”. On the flight that takes him to Iraq, maximum compliance with anti-covid regulations is observed. Everyone, including the Pope, wear a mask. “I’ll try to follow the directions, not to shake hands, but I want to stay close,” he says, passing among the journalists for a personal greeting to each one.
President Aoun’s message
“Welcome to His Holiness Pope Francis in the Levant, the land that has always been a meeting place for civilizations, religions and cultures,” Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, writes in a tweet. “We hope – he adds – that this visit will give impetus to real peace, which the Iraqis and other peoples of the region so much need.”
Mattarella: it is a step on the path of brotherhood
The pope’s trip to Iraq is a sign of continuity after that to the United Arab Emirates and is a further step along the path traced by the declaration on human brotherhood. This is what the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, underlines in his message to the Pope flying to Baghdad for his 33rd apostolic journey. «I would like to send to Your Holiness – explains the head of state – a heartfelt thanks for the message he wanted to send me when, after the long pause imposed by the pandemic, he is about to leave for the much desired Apostolic Journey to Iraq. Realizing a purpose that St. John Paul II was unable to implement, his presence in Iraq represents a concrete testimony of closeness and fatherly concern for the tortured Christian communities of that country and of the entire region. The mission of Your Holiness also takes on a particular significance as a sign of continuity after the Apostolic Journey to the United Arab Emirates, taking a further step along the path traced by the declaration on human brotherhood. Therefore, the most fervent wishes for this demanding mission reach Your Holiness – concludes Mattarella – together with the expressions of the deep affection of the Italian people and my personal consideration».
This morning, in leaving Casa Santa Marta shortly before 7 am in the direction of Fiumicino airport, Bergoglio spent a few moments with 12 people welcomed by the Community of Sant’Egidio and by the Auxilium Cooperative and who took refuge in Italy in recent years from Iraq. The group was accompanied by the papal almsgiver, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.