Pope Francis is visiting parts of northern Iraq that were held by ISIS militants on the third day of his historic trip to the country.
Militants overran the region in 2014, destroying historic churches and looting. Christians have been returning there since IS was defeated in 2017.
Later on Sunday the Pope will celebrate Mass at a football stadium in Irbil, with up to 10,000 attendees expected.
Early on Sunday, the Pope was welcomed as he arrived in the northern city of Irbil by the head of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani.
Later, the pontiff is due to travel to Mosul – a former IS stronghold for three years – where he will say prayers in Church Square for the victims of the war with the Sunni Muslim militant group, which left tens of thousands of civilians dead.
He will then visit Iraq’s largest church, which was partly destroyed by IS, in nearby Qaraqosh, where Christians have returned since the group’s defeat.
About 10,000 Iraqi Security Forces personnel have been deployed to protect the Pope during his visit, while round-the-clock curfews have also been imposed to limit the spread of Covid.
The four-day trip, which began on Friday, is the pontiff’s first international excursion since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago, and the first ever papal visit to the country.
Main Photo: The President of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani (R) welcomes Pope Francis (L) upon his arrival to Erbil International Airport in Erbil, The Capital of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, 07 March 2021. EPA-EFE/Gailan Haji
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