Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 26 August 2019

Time not right for Pope Francis to visit Iraq: Vatican

The threat of terror attacks and instability are too high for a papal trip, says cardinal

Pope Francis with the artists of the Circo of Cuba, during his weekly general audience in the Paolo VI hall of the Vatican on January 2. EPA
Pope Francis with the artists of the Circo of Cuba, during his weekly general audience in the Paolo VI hall of the Vatican on January 2. EPA

Iraq is not yet safe enough for a papal visit as the risk of a terrorist attack is still there, the Vatican's number two has said.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, told the Catholic TV channel TV2000 that "the problem of terrorism has not been resolved".

Cardinal Parolin spoke about the security situation after visiting the troubled country, saying a papal trip to Iraq imposed a "minimum of conditions" that "are not currently met".

Discussing terrorism, he said the Iraqi authorities confirmed that "the roots of this phenomenon are still present".

Iraq has been a battleground for competing forces and is still battling the remnants of ISIS who swept across the country in 2014 taking control of major cities including Mosul and Fallujah.

Although parts of the country, such as Bagdhad have seen a marked improvement in the security situation — leading to the removal of some long-standing concrete blast walls, checkpoints and the opening of the secure diplomatic "Green Zone" area — large areas of the county are plagued by instability, terror cells and intercommunal violence.

Pope Francis, 81, has made boosting ties between Christianity and Islam a cornerstone of his papacy.

Cardinal Parolin told Vatican News on Friday that the pontiff wants to visit Iraq: "It would certainly be a great encouragement to Iraqis in the difficulties they still have to face."

The pope has already visited several Muslim countries, including Turkey in 2014, Azerbaijan in 2016 and Egypt in 2017.

Next month he will visit Abu Dhabi and then in March he will head to Morocco.

The Catholic Church has released details of how tickets will be distributed for the a large public mass that will mark Pope Francis's visit to the UAE. It will be held at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on February 5.

Although 120,000 people will witness the Mass in person, Paul Hinder, Catholic Bishop for southern Arabia, said many more would inevitably be unable to attend.

The Roman Catholic community has been urged not to compete for tickets.

Bishop Hinder said that since the visit was announced last month, church leaders had been working behind the scenes to devise a system that would distribute tickets “in the most just way” in light of the limited capacity.

Pope Francis moved quickly after his election in 2013 to make overtures to Jews and Muslims, inviting two old friends from Buenos Aires — a rabbi and a Muslim professor — on a trip to the Middle East where he condemned religious hatred.


Read more:

Pope Francis public mass to be held at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City

UAE's Catholic community warned many may miss out in Pope ticket scramble

The Pope's visit: The story of the Roman Catholic Church in the UAE

Updated: January 3, 2019 10:41 AM