He traveled 900 miles within Iraq, meeting with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and speaking to political leaders and Christian communities.
The pope stayed in the capital, Baghdad, and also visited the Plain of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, as well as Najaf, Nassiriya, Erbil, Mosul, and Bakhdida, also known as Qaraqosh.
At the Feb. 28 meeting, Pope Francis reassured representatives of the Christian Churches in Iraq that he is still close to them and their people.
“Dear Brothers in Christ, know that you are in my heart and in the prayers of so many people. Do not be discouraged: while so many, at various levels, threaten peace, we do not look away from Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and we do not tire of invoking his Spirit, the creator of unity,” he said.
The Christian population in Iraq, a country of around 40 million people, has been steadily dwindling for decades, from around 1.4 million in 2003 to about 250,000 today.
Underlining the importance of a Christian presence in Iraq, Pope Francis said that everything must be done to ensure that Christians continue to feel that Iraq is their home, that they are full citizens, and that they have something to contribute.