UPDATED: Pope ends historic visit to Iraq

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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.

Pope Francis gives a news conference aboard the papal plane on his flight back after visiting Iraq, 08 March 2021. EPA-EFE/YARA NARDI / POOL

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”.

Faithful during a mass on Sunday with Pope Francis (not seen) at the Erbil Stadium, Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. EPA-EFE/GAILAN HAJI

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.

Iraq suffers from chronic mismanagement and corruption, and a steady level of violence often linked to the region’s U.S.-Iran rivalry 18 years after the United States invaded.

Main Photo: Pope Francis (C) waves to faithful from the Papal Mobil as he arrives to celebrate the Holy Mass at the ‘Franso Hariri’ Stadium in Erbil, Iraq, 07 March 2021. Pope Francis began on 05 March a three-day official visit in Iraq, the first papal visit to this country affected throughout the years by war, insecurity and lately COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. EPA-EFE/VATICAN MEDIA HANDOUT

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