Rome Newsroom, Mar 5, 2021 / 03:40 am (CNA).- Pope Francis met with Iraqi refugees in Rome early Friday before his flight to Baghdad.

The pope spent a few moments with about a dozen refugees from Iraq and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, according to a statement from Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, on March 5.

The Iraqi refugees have been assisted by the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio and the Auxilium Social Cooperative since their arrival in Italy.

The meeting took place just before 7 a.m. as Pope Francis was leaving for Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport to board his Alitalia flight for Baghdad.

The papal plane is scheduled to touch down in Iraq at 2 p.m. local time. Pope Francis will be the first pope in history to visit Iraq.

Upon his arrival at Baghdad International Airport, the pope is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the airport before visiting Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace, where the pope will give a speech to a gathering of civil authorities.

Later on Friday evening, Pope Francis will visit local Iraqi Catholics inside the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, also known as Sayidat al-Nejat, the site of a suicide attack by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq during Sunday Mass in 2010 in which 52 people were killed.

On the eve of his flight to Iraq, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession and protection on his travels.

Pope Francis is visiting Iraq on March 5-8 in a trip intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and to foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.

In just over three days, Francis is scheduled to travel 900 miles within Iraq, meeting with political leaders, prominent Muslim clerics, and Christian communities.

“I am coming as a pilgrim, as a penitent pilgrim, to implore from the Lord forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism, to beg from God the consolation of hearts and the healing of wounds,” Pope Francis said in a video message published March. 5.

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