If the trip to Iraq goes ahead, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Christian communities in the Nineveh Plains, which were ravaged by the Islamic State from 2014 to 2016, causing many Christians to flee the region. The pope has repeatedly expressed his closeness to these persecuted Christians.
After the papal trip to Iraq was announced in December, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told CNA that he believed that the pope's visit had "the potential to change the trajectory of the Christian presence in Iraq from one of a disappearing people to one of a surviving and thriving people."
Since the Islamic State occupied parts of northern Iraq in 2014, the number of Christians living in the formerly occupied areas has declined from 102,000 to 36,000.
Some displaced Christians have returned to the Nineveh Plains as their homes were rebuilt, but more Christian families left the region than returned to their hometowns last year, according to a report by Aid to the Church in Need.
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Economic instability and continued security challenges have been the forces driving this continued emigration.
Iraqis have been protesting against government corruption and the lack of economic opportunities since October 2019. The coronavirus pandemic and collapse of oil prices in 2020 have further weakened the country's economy.
"For the present, what we need most is economic opportunity for the people, some path to dignified livelihoods," Warda said.
"This is what we hope the international community can most understand at this time."
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.