ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq has security shortcomings making it difficult to host a possible visit by Pope Francis, the Vatican’s secretary of state said on Wednesday.
“The problem of terrorism has not been resolved,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, told the Catholic TV channel TV2000, according to AFP.
Parolin’s comments come after a visit to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region late-December, during which he met with officials and Christian communities in the country.
The “minimum of conditions” that a papal trip to Iraq imposes “are not currently met,” the Vatican’s official added.
During their meeting with Parolin, Iraqi officials had stated that “the roots of… [terrorism] are still present” in the country.
Since the fall of the former Iraq regime, the country has been the site of multiple bouts of unrest, the most recent iteration of which was a fight against the Islamic State (IS).
In 2014, when IS emerged in Iraq, tens of thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes, with many seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region.
The jihadi group killed Christian civilians, forced some to convert to Islam, and destroyed or desecrated churches in cities like Mosul, which it controlled for years.
Francis, 81, who began his papacy in early 2013, has been commended for his humility and commitment to interfaith dialogue, notably Christianity and Islam.
He is set to pay visits to the two Arab countries of the United Arab Emirates and Morocco in February and March, respectively. He has visited Muslim-majority countries of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Egypt during his papacy.
A Papal visit to Iraq “would certainly be a great encouragement to Iraqis in the difficulties they still have to face,” said Parolin.
In July as part of a call for peace in the Middle East, Francis criticized “murderous indifference” and “complicit silence” of many, while denouncing the “violence and destruction” that is causing Christians to flee their ancestral homelands and the birthplace of Christianity itself.
Editing by Nadia Riva