Pope Francis Risks Death to Visit Iraq’s Christians

By Mark A. Kellner
Posted March 09, 2021

Before the unprecedented papal visit to not only one of the most notable countries in recent history but also one of the most biblically significant sites in the world, headlines were ablaze with the momentous news: Why was Pope Francis going to Iraq? Where within the country would he go? How could he go now, amidst the danger of recent bombings and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

Several outlets even followed the pope’s entire four-day excursion, from March 5 to 8, with live updates. And it appears they had good reason. Francis’ visit is the first time a pope has ever traveled to the war-torn country.

The Wall Street Journal singled out Francis, who turned 84 just three months ago, for the trip’s timing: “The pope’s determination to stage a high-profile international trip with the pandemic still running high makes him almost unique among world leaders at present.” 

Not even the Baghdad bombs in January deterred him, though it certainly made his advisors at the Vatican nervous. Subsequently, “the daunting security threats in a country still racked by violence prompted Iraqi forces to guard the papal visit vigorously, including a near total lockdown of Baghdad.”


The Pope’s Itinerary and Intent

In reality, the frenzy around Francis’ plans boils down to one question: Why, at a time in earth’s history when the world’s leaders are hunkered down, dealing with the ravages of the pandemic in their own countries, was the pope insistent on going to Iraq?

On Saturday, his first full day there, “the pope traveled to the ancient city of Ur, traditionally held to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, venerated by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. It was a day meant to convey images of religious unity and tolerance,” reported The New York Times.

The next day, the pope traveled to Mosul, a city that now lies in ruins, having literally been buried by religiopolitical strife. However, to Francis: “The real identity of this city is that of harmonious coexistence between people of different backgrounds and cultures.”

But it was Francis’ meeting with Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the city of Najaf that drew substantial attention. The pontiff, in white, and the Muslim leader, in black, discussed the need for better relations between Christians and Muslims, with Mr. Sistani saying he’ll support the civil rights of Christians in the majority-Muslim nation. 

Francis’ final major public appearance was a worship service held in a stadium. According to The New York Times, “The Mass on Sunday was offered in the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional capital. While Kurdish television said that about 10,000 people attended, church officials had earlier said that about 5,000 tickets would be distributed.”

Is there a pattern here? Surmised the Journal, “Pope Francis used a series of events … to promote his agenda of support for beleaguered Christians in the Middle East and outreach to Muslims.” And Courthouse News Service, a national news hub with a focus on law, deemed the trip one that successfully “built new bridges with the Muslim faith.”

An online article at ABC News, written a day before Francis’ departure from Rome, stated, “The pope wants to use this trip … to reach out to all the religious communities in Iraq.” The article further drew on the pope’s scheduled “interfaith meeting” in Ur, to which “members of all the main religious segments have been invited.”

While those of one faith, the Jews, were prevented from public participation in the ceremonies, the article made it clear that the blame lay not with the pope but solely with the Middle Eastern nation itself. “Baghdad wasted a historic opportunity to reconcile with its Jews by inviting them to attend,” one Iraqi-born Jewish leader, Edwin Shuker, told The Jerusalem Post. It heralded Francis’ message of inclusion, which “was given and stood in contrast to the stance of the Iraqi government.”


A High-Profile, Public Woman?

While the visit (in which the pope, previously vaccinated, appeared in public often without a mask) has left some health officials squeamish over the potential hazard, it appears all publications were left without a doubt as to its intentions. The trip let the world know that the Catholic faith can coexist a religion so seemingly opposed to it.

These recent actions are strikingly similar to those of a certain figure in Scripture. In the book of Revelation, a prophecy is described regarding a woman, decked in opulence, “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (17:2).

Most fascinating is the woman’s name: “Babylon the Great” (v. 5). The moniker in Revelation is a symbol taken from the literal Babylon that existed on earth. The ancient kingdom of Babylon fell in 539 bc. It was the most powerful nation in the region and was located in what is considered present-day Iraq, just 50 miles, in fact, from Baghdad. One of Francis’ destinations, the city of Ur, was part of the Babylonian dynasty.

If you would like to know more about the great nation of Babylon and the mysterious woman who bears its title, try Pastor Doug Batchelor’s sermon, “When All the World Wonders.”

Then, check out his two-parter, “The Bride of Antichrist, Pt. 1”  and "The Bride of Antichrist, Pt. 2."

And top it off with our free, online Bible lesson, “The ‘Other’ Woman.”

Who is this woman? What is her agenda? And why does it seem to involve all the nations of the world? Finding out may just change your life forever.

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.
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