Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako has said he is hopeful that Pope Francis will visit Iraq next year.
Patriarch Sako, the leader of the Chaldean Church, which is in communion with Rome, made the comments in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, on Saturday, reports Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“His visit would be more than a simple visit, it would be of high pastoral and spiritual symbolism,” he said.
“He could come for a day. He could start in Baghdad and visit the government. In the afternoon he could celebrate Holy Mass here and return in the evening. The visit of Pope Francis would be of major support for us, not only for the Christians but for the whole of Iraq.”
Harry Hagopian, a consultant to the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales on Middle East affairs, said that if the Pope were to visit Iraq then a visit to Baghdad would be essential.
“For anyone to go to the north without going to Baghdad, the See of the Church, would be an insult,” said Mr Hagopian.
“If you are coming to Iraq, they would say, ‘Come to Baghdad, and join us in our peril’. It would look bizarre not to go to Baghdad. [Only going to the north] might be possible logistically but it would undermine the essence of solidarity.”
At a recent meeting in Rome, Patriarch Sako personally invited the Pope to visit Iraq and dismissed fears over the Pontiff’s safety. He said: “I don’t know why the Holy See is so concerned. I can give an assurance that nothing would happen to the Pope. His security would be guaranteed one hundred per cent.”
Patriarch Sako added that he believes ground troops are needed to liberate the Christian settlement areas in northern Iraq which have been conquered by ISIS terrorists: “The West’s policy is not clear. We don’t know when the villages of the Niniveh plain will be liberated. I think it will still take some time. The coalition forces haven’t decided yet. OK, they are conducting air strikes. But we need ground troops to push ISIS back.”
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