Hassan Hamed Al-Baldawi : Pope Francis said he was determined to visit Iraq in early March in his capacity as "patron of the tormented" in an interview he gave Monday to the American Catholic News Service.
The Pope stressed that even if the instructions for social distancing could compel Iraqis to follow him on television, "they will see that the Pope is in their country," indicating, however, that he could change his mind in the event of a new wave of Covid-19 in Iraq.
Iraq currently records fewer than 10 deaths from the Corona virus and a few hundred new infections per day, compared to thousands a few months ago.
"I am the patron of the tormented," said the 84-year-old Argentine Pope.
The pope, who always travels on a charter plane, said he would be ready if needed to fly in a regular passenger plane.
The Pope announced in early December that he would visit Iraq from 5 to 8 March, in his first trip abroad since the outbreak of the epidemic and the first that Pope made to this country.
The late Polish Pope John Paul II planned to visit Iraq in December 1999, but this did not materialize after negotiations with former President Saddam Hussein.
The Pope stressed that he does not wish to disappoint the Iraqi people for the second time, according to the Catholic News Agency of the American Episcopal Committee, which on Monday celebrated its centenary.
Iraq witnessed the killing of 32 people on January 21 in a twin suicide attack targeting a crowded market in central Baghdad. It was the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital in more than three years.
Cardinal Louis Sacco, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholics in Iraq, told France Press that the Pope will meet during his visit the great Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani in the city of Najaf.
In Baghdad, he will hold a mass at the Our Lady of Deliverance Church, which was hit by a deadly attack in 2010 that killed dozens of worshipers.
He will travel to Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plain region, which was controlled by ISIS in 2014, and he will visit Erbil, where he will hold a mass in a stadium in the largest city in the Kurdistan region, where a large number of Christians have taken refuge after ISIS attacks on their towns and villages.
Sako said the Pope will hold interfaith prayer in Ur in the south, in the presence of representatives of wide-ranging Iraqi sects - from Shiite, Sunni, Yazidi and Sabian elders