International

Pope Francis to visit Iraq in March, Vatican says

The 53rd World Day of Peace Holy Mass is celebrated by Pope Francis on the occasion of the solemnity of Mary Mother of God, in Vatican City on Jan. 1, 2019. (Photo by Grzegorz Galazka/Archivio Grzegorz Galazka/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

(CNN) — Pope Francis will travel to Iraq in March 2021, the Vatican press office announced on Monday.

His trip to the war-torn country could be his first trip outside of Italy since the coronavirus pandemic began. Francis is set to “visit Baghdad, linked to the memory of Abraham, the city of Erbil, as well as Mosul and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh” during his March 5-8 visit, the Vatican communique said.

“The programme of the journey will be made known in due course, and will take into consideration the evolution of the worldwide health emergency,” it added.

Iraq’s foreign ministry said the Pope’s visit “represents a historic event and support for all Iraqis of all sectors.”

“It also represents a message of peace to Iraq and to the region as a whole, affirms the unity of the humanitarian position in confronting extremism and conflicts, and promotes diversity and tolerance. And coexistence,” the ministry said in a statement.

Around 1% of Iraq’s population is Christian from a number of denominations. The country has seen an exodus of Christians in recent decades as Iraq was wracked by cycles of violence, including the rise of ISIS.

MORE STORIES