Pope Francis arrived in Iraq’s Mosul city on Sunday to meet Christian communities who suffered under the Daesh’s rule a few years ago.
The heaviest deployment of security forces yet has been mobilised to protect the 84-year-old on what is perhaps his riskiest day in Iraq.
Francis landed early on Sunday at the airport in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, targeted just a few weeks ago by a volley of rockets that killed two people.
He held a brief meeting with regional president Nechirvan Barzani and his cousin, the prime minister Masrour Barzani.
The pontiff will then travel by helicopter to lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in the city of Mosul, an ancient crossroads overrun by Daesh in 2014.
“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service Saturday, one of the many stops on the first-ever papal visit to the war-scarred country.
Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country´s ancient, but dwindling, Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.
The leader of the world´s 1.3 billion Catholics on Saturday met Iraq’s top scholar, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace”.
“We all hope that this visit will be a good omen for the Iraqi people,” Adnane Youssef, a Christian from northern Iraq, told AFP. “We hope that it will lead to better days.”