Pope Francis on Wednesday asked all Catholics to pray for the success of his visit to Iraq on March 5-8.
“The day after tomorrow, with the help of God, I’ll go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I’ve wanted to meet the people of Iraq, who’ve suffered so much,” he told an audience in the Vatican that included Arab News.
“Together with other religious leaders, in the birthplace of Abraham we’ll also move another step forward in the brotherhood of believers. I ask you to accompany this journey with your prayer so that it can take place in the best way and bring all the desired fruits,” he added.
“The Iraqi people await me. They also waited for (Pope) St. John Paul II but he was forbidden to go (by Iraq’s then-President Saddam Hussein). One can’t disappoint a people a second time.”
The visit is going ahead despite Wednesday’s attack on a military base hosting US-led coalition troops in western Iraq.
While Pope Francis is not scheduled to visit that part of the country, he will spend time in Baghdad and Erbil, both hit by rocket attacks last month.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters that the pope may travel by armored vehicle, and will not be meeting crowds except for Mass at Erbil stadium on Sunday, where 10,000 people are expected.
“This is a particular situation. That’s why transport will be in a closed vehicle, meaning it will be difficult to see the pope on the street,” Bruni said in a press briefing attended by Arab News. “There will be a number of meetings, but none will be more than a few hundred people.”