ROME: Pope Francis has called for the war in Syria to end, noting that 2021 marks its 10th anniversary.
In an audience with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, the leader of the Catholic Church also confirmed that his visit to Iraq, beginning on March 5, will mark the restart of his apostolic travels, which were paused for nearly a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“How I wish 2021 were the year in which the final word to the Syrian conflict, which began 10 years ago, was finally written,” Pope Francis told 88 ambassadors from around the world.
“For this to happen, a renewed interest is needed by the international community so that the causes of the conflict are faced with sincerity and courage and solutions through which everyone, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation, can contribute as citizens to the future of the country.”
Archbishop Carlo Maria Celli, former head of the Vatican Council for Communication, told Arab News: “This is further evidence of the pope’s attention to the Middle East. He considers the end of the war in Syria a fundamental step for peace in the area, and he couldn’t state this more clearly.”
The Vatican press office on Monday released the definitive schedule for the pope’s visit to Iraq. He will arrive in Baghdad on March 5 and be welcomed by Iraq’s prime minister at the airport.
Pope Francis will then visit the country’s president at the presidential palace, where he will meet with local authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps.
He will also meet with bishops and priests at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.
On March 6, he will fly to the city of Najaf and meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. The pope will return to Baghdad that day and celebrate Holy Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph.
On March 7 he will visit Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and meet with religious and civil authorities of the autonomous region. He will also visit the city of Qaraqosh. His return to Rome is scheduled for March 8 from Baghdad.
“The pope will deliver a message of peace, of ecumenism, of respect and hope for all Iraqis, no matter what their religion is. His visit will be historic, and I’m sure it will mean a lot for everyone in that country,” said Fr. Giuseppe Ciutti, an Italian priest who served in a refugee camp in Qaraqosh.
“Iraq needs normality and dialogue. I’m sure Pope Francis will use the right words to promote both.”