The Pope departs from Rome for historic first-ever visit by a pontiff to Iraq
Pope Francis left Rome on Friday to start a four-day trip to Iraq, his most risky foreign trip since his election in 2012 and the first visit by a pontiff to the country.
An Alitalia airplane carrying the pope, his entourage, a security detail, and about 75 journalists, left Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport for the 4-1/2-hour flight to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Iraq is deploying thousands of additional security personnel to protect Francis during the visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks raised fears for the Catholic leader’s safety.
On Wednesday morning, 10 rockets landed on an airbase that hosts U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces. Hours after that attack, the pope reaffirmed he would be going to Iraq.
The 84-year-old will visit four cities, including the former Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, where churches and other buildings still bear the scars of conflict.