During the historic first-ever papal visit, Pope Francis has called on to end violence and extremism and urged the Christian community to play a crucial role in public life to promote peace in Iraq and the entire Middle East. The Pope reached Baghdad on Friday and was greeted by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi amidst a pandemic-related curfew.
"Iraq has suffered the disastrous effects of wars, the scourge of terrorism and sectarian conflicts often grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups," Francis said while addressing his opening speech on Friday. "May the weapons be silenced. May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism."
The pope on Friday conversed in a gathering of bishops, priests and other representatives of civil society at the city's Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.
The pontiff has also met with Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shia leader, in Najaf on Saturday, the second day of his historic visit. After Najaf, the Catholic leader is expected to visit the city of Ur, prominently known as the birthplace of Abraham.
During his four-day tour, Francis will visit the cities of Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh to hold discussions with people to rebuild their communities and churches. The pope will pray at a memorial in Mosul for victims of Islamic State and will visit the Saint Mary al-Tahira Cathedral in Qaraqosh.
The pontiff had addressed the Iraqis in a video ahead of his travel saying,"You testified to your faith in Jesus through very hard trials … You had too many martyrs there. May they help us to persevere in the humble power of love."
He termed himself a 'penitent pilgrim' who wishes to 'implore forgiveness and reconciliation from the Lord after years of war and terrorism'.
Pope Francis is scheduled to return to Italy on March 8.