Pope Francis calls for end to violence in first Iraq address

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Pope Francis has called for an end to “violence and extremism” in his opening address on the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, long scarred by war and now gripped by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 84-year-old defied a second wave of the global pandemic and renewed security fears to make a “long-awaited” trip to comfort one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, while also deepening his dialogue with Muslims.

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“May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance,” urged Francis in the stirring address at the presidential palace in Baghdad on Friday.

Francis landed in the afternoon at Baghdad International Airport, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, as well as groups showcasing Iraq’s diverse folklore music and dance.

He then met President Barham Salih – who had extended the official invitation to the pontiff in 2019 – as well as other government and religious figures.

At the palace, the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics gave a moving address, stressing the deep roots of Christianity in Iraq.

READ ALSO: Pope Francis begins historic Iraq visit despite virus and security risks

“The age-old presence of Christians in this land, and their contributions to the life of the nation, constitute a rich heritage that they wish to continue to place at the service of all,” said Pope Francis.

Pope Francis arrives at Baghdad International Airport [Andrew Medichini/AP Photo]

He also urged Iraqi officials to “combat the scourge of corruption, misuse of power and disregard for law” in a country consistently ranked one of the most corruption-tainted by Transparency International.

The pope, a prominent advocate for interfaith dialogue, also hailed other devastated Iraqi minorities.

“Here, among so many who have suffered, my thoughts turn to the Yazidis, innocent victims of senseless and brutal atrocities,” he said.

Just like Iraq’s Christian population, the esoteric Yazidi community was ravaged in 2014 when ISIL (ISIS) swept through much of northern Iraq.

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