By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY, (Catholic News Service), BAGHDAD – To consolidate peace and ensure progress, the government and people of Iraq must never treat anyone as a second-class citizen and must work each day to promote harmony, Pope Francis said.
“Fraternal coexistence calls for patient and honest dialogue, protected by justice and by respect for law,” he said March 5, addressing Iraqi President Barham Salih, other government leaders and diplomats serving in Iraq.
The appointment with civic and cultural leaders at the presidential palace in Baghdad came shortly after the pope landed in Iraq for his first foreign trip in 15 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although he, his entire entourage and the journalists traveling with him had all been vaccinated against the coronavirus, they all wore masks during the four-hour flight from Rome.
Lowering his mask briefly to address reporters, he said he felt a “duty” to visit the Middle Eastern country, which had experienced so much death and turmoil since the 2003 invasion by a US-led coalition. He put his mask back on to make his way around the plane and personally greet each member of the media.
The pope held a brief meeting with Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in a lounge at the Baghdad airport before heading into the city under tight security.
Outside the airport, in five or six large groups along the highway, hundreds of Iraqis waved Vatican or Iraqi flags as the pope passed. Forced to use a bullet-proof car, the pope rode to the presidential palace in a black BMW 750i; the sedan was flanked most of the way by security officials on motorcycles, but as the motorcade neared the palace, it was accompanied by officers on horseback.