|Pope Francis laughs during a news conference while in the air aboard the Alitalia papal plane on his flight back from Iraq, March 8, 2021. (Photo by YARA NARDI / POOL / AFP)|
Pope Francis returned to Rome on Monday following his trip to Iraq, the first-ever by a pontiff, according to an AFP reporter on board his plane.
The 84-year-old’s packed three-day visit passed off without a hitch despite concerns about security and the coronavirus pandemic.
“Iraq will always remain with me, in my heart,” the pope said as he concluded his largest Mass and a final public event in Iraq on Sunday in Arbil, the capital of the northern Kurdistan region.
He later met the father of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian Kurdish toddler who became a symbol of the plight of migrants.
It capped off a trip in which Francis covered more than 1,400 kilometres (900 miles) inside the conflict-ravaged country.
He brought encouragement to Iraq’s diminished Christian community and extended a hand to Shiite Muslims by meeting top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
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