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Pope casts doubt on Iraq visit in March due to covid

Pope Francis addresses followers during his visit at the St. Peter's Cathedral in Rabat, Morocco on March 31, 2019 [Jalal Morchidi / Anadolu Agency]
Pope Francis in Rabat, Morocco on 31 March 2019 [Jalal Morchidi/Anadolu Agency]

Pope Francis has stated that he is unsure about his historic trip to Iraq scheduled in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an interview yesterday evening with Italy's Canale 5 broadcasting channel.

In one segment of the interview Francis mentioned how he had personally been affected by the pandemic and how he had to cancel trips that were planned the year before, including the Iraq visit, a first by a pope.

"Yes, I had to cancel trips … because in good conscience, I can't be the cause of gatherings of people, right? Now I don't know if the trip to Iraq can take place. Life has changed," he said.

The 84-year-old also addressed the coronavirus vaccine, stressing that everyone who is able to, should get vaccinated as he is expected to receive it himself next week. According to the pontiff, anyone who refused to take the vaccine when it was known to be safe possessed "a suicidal denialism".

READ: Pope Francis to make historic first Iraq visit

Last month the Holy See Press Office announced that the Pope had been officially invited by Iraqi President Barham Salih and the country's Catholic Church. The landmark visit was scheduled between 5-8 March, covering four provinces. Confirming the visit at the time, Salih stated on Twitter that the trip "will be a message of peace to Iraqis of all religions & serve to affirm our common values of justice & dignity."

Also last month, the Iraqi Parliament approved a bill recognising Christmas as a "national holiday with an annual frequency" for all citizens. The Chladean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako who had welcomed the news of the Pope's planned visit also expressed "joy and satisfaction" at the declaration which confirmed the importance of "the Christian presence" in Iraq. Auxiliary Bishop Basilio Yaldo said in an interview with AsiaNews claimed the news was "inevitably linked to the pontiff's apostolic journey to our country in March. This is one of the first fruits we hope will bring many others in the future".

READ: Pope promises to visit Lebanon, South Sudan, as soon as possible

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