Pope Francis gestures as he boards a plane to depart for Rome, at Baghdad International Airport in Baghdad, Iraq. Reuters
Pope Francis ended his historic tour of Iraq on Monday, departing by plane from Baghdad after visiting conflict-torn cities, meeting Muslim and Christian leaders and preaching peace and coexistence over war.
Francis waved one last time from before boarding a plane flying the Vatican and Iraqi flags from its cockpit windows. President Barham Salih accompanied the 84-year-old pontiff down a red carpet to his flight.
During Francis’s trip, the first ever papal visit to Iraq, he toured four cities, including Mosul, the former Islamic State stronghold where vast areas still lie in ruins, telling Iraqis that “peace is more powerful than war.”
He said Iraq would “always remain with me, in my heart.”
The pontiff, who walked with a limp during parts of the frantic tour, also made a historical first in meeting Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric.
Iraqis welcomed the pope and said it was a chance for the world to see their perpetually crisis-hit nation in a new light.
Pope Francis, the pioneering head of over a billion Roman Catholics, always takes the road less travelled. He is indeed a unique face of the papacy. On Friday, he started his visit to Iraq, his first sojourn abroad since the coronavirus pandemic broke
“I am happy to be making trips again,” he said in brief comments to reporters aboard the plane, alluding to the coronavirus pandemic which has prevented him from travelling. The Iraq trip is his first outside Italy since November 2019.
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