A Vatican delegation arrived in Dhi Qar, south of Iraq, as part of an inspection tour in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis in early March.
The Pope is scheduled to arrive in Iraq on March 5 for a three-day visit and will tour Baghdad, Nasiriyah, Najaf, Nineveh, and Erbil, on the first papal trip to the country.
The delegation visited Ur city in Nasiriyah to overlook the preparations, and a source indicated that the officials may tour some health institutions in the city.
Nasiriyah city, and Dhi Qar governorate in general, suffer from instability as a result of the ongoing popular rallies protesting lack of security, failing services, and declining job opportunities.
Last week, the leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, announced that some parties “object to the visit,” without naming them. However, he indicated that openness to religions is desirable, and the Pope is welcome in Iraq.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met with the Vatican ambassador in Baghdad, Mitja Leskovar, to discuss arrangements for the visit, noting that it will assert the spirit of brotherhood in Iraq and the region.
Earlier, presidential advisor Ismail al-Hadidi confirmed that the restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of the coronavirus will not affect the papal visit.
Hadidi told Iraqi News Agency (INA) that the outbreak of the coronavirus and the strict measures will not affect the program, ruling out postponing the pontiff's visit.
The Vatican earlier announced the Pope’s program, which includes a visit to Baghdad and Najaf, where he will meet the supreme Shiite leader Ali al-Sistani amid reports that the two will sign a document on human fraternity aimed at promoting mutual trust among followers of all faiths.
The Pope is expected to visit the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad on March 5, which was attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in 2010, killing two priests and 48 people during Mass.
Last week, priest Dinkha Abdulahad, who oversees preparations for the papal visit to Erbil, gave a detailed explanation about the visit to Nineveh and the region.
He explained the visit’s significance, as it is the first in the history of the Church, noting that the closing mass will be held in Francois Hariri stadium in Erbil.
About 10,000 people will attend the mass at the stadium, which can accommodate 30,000 persons, according to the priest. He asserted that health measures will be implemented, including social distancing and the use of masks.
“We consider this visit to be a support for those who have been suffering during the past years, especially after 2003 and 2014 attacks in ‘Our Lady of Deliverance’ Church. The message of the Pope and the Church on this visit gives hope for all those who were tormented by wars,” said the priest.