Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the Vatican and met with Pope Francis on Friday as part of his official visit to Italy where they discussed the need to protect the Christian community in the Middle Eastern country and ensure that their rights are not violated. 

“During the cordial talks, Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq and the moments of unity experienced by the Iraqi people were evoked, and the importance of promoting a culture of national dialogue to foster stability and the process of reconstruction of the country was discussed,” the Vatican said in a statement. “The parties went on to highlight the importance of protecting the historical presence of Christians in the country with adequate legal measures, and the significant contribution they can make to the common good, highlighting the need to guarantee them the same rights and duties as other citizens.”

The Vatican also recognized Iraqi efforts, “with the support of the international community, to re-establish a climate of trust and peaceful coexistence.”

The Christian population in Iraq has shrunk from around 1.4 million in 2003 to around 250,000 Christians now. Thousands of Christians fled their homes when Islamic State militants took over their towns and destroyed ancient churches.

In an effort to bolster the flailing Christian community, the Pope visited Iraq in March becoming the first Pope to be a guest in the Mesopotamian region in a trip that lasted several days and included stops in Baghdad, Najaf, Dhi Qar, Nineveh and Irbil. The visit was also significant in that it was the first papal visit abroad since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic.

Since then, relations between Iraq and the Vatican have soared.

During the meeting this weekend, al-Kadhimi called “Baghdad’s commitment to establish Iraqi Christians and other minorities in their lands as an essential part of the fabric of their societies.”

“The government is proceeding to reconstruct the ancient churches that were destroyed by ISIS terrorist gangs, as well as its serious endeavor to reconstruct the city of Ur due to its historical importance, to be prepared to receive Christian delegations,” the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Also discussed were “bilateral relations and the strengthening of cooperation and joint coordination to facilitate the grouping of tourist and religious groups to the historical city of Ur.”

The ancient city of Ur is preparing to receive 13,000 pilgrims from the Christian community, on a trip that an Iraqi official said is the largest in the city’s history.

Al-Kadhimi renewed his invitation for the Vatican to join the Supreme Permanent Dialogue Committee between Iraq and the Vatican in Baghdad this year.

Al-Kadhimi met with Vatican Prime Minister Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his Italian counterpart Mario Draghi as well. The Italian president said in a statement, that Draghi and al-Kadhimi held a fruitful meeting in Rome, during which they discussed strengthening historic friendship relations, and other regional issues.

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