VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis and his aides are well aware of the security and health risks involved with his planned trip to Iraq, but “all the precautions have been taken”, and the Pope feels a sense of “urgency” to show his love and concern for the Iraqi people, said the director of the Vatican press office.
“The best way to interpret this journey is as an act of love, an act of love for this land, for this people, for its Christians,” the director, Matteo Bruni, told reporters on March 2 during a press briefing about the trip, scheduled for March 5-8.
“Every act of love may be or can be interpreted as extreme,” he said, especially in communicating to others, confirming for them that they are loved.
Bruni said acting out of love by traveling while the coronavirus pandemic is continuing – and worsening in Iraq – and at a time when sporadic acts of terrorist violence have increased slightly “does not mean in any way to lose sight of the consequences of one’s action, but it is possible in this regard to measure the need of the other to receive confirmation of that love, consideration and attention”.
“All of the precautions have been taken from a health point of view,” Bruni said, with the Pope and everyone traveling with him – including some 70 members of the media – having been vaccinated against Covid-19 by the Vatican. The only event scheduled with more than 200 people is a Mass March 7 in a stadium in Irbil, which seats 30,000 people, but fewer than 10,000 free tickets were printed.
As with every papal trip, the host government oversees the Pope’s security, but plans and carries it out in collaboration with the Vatican police force and the Swiss Guard. Bruni said it was up to the Iraqis to decide how much input would come from coalition security officials, such as the NATO Mission Iraq. He also declined to specify how many Vatican security officers would be traveling with the Pope.
From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has made it a point not to ride in armoured cars, but to choose something simple. On this trip, Bruni said, it was likely that he would not have such a choice.
As with every papal trip, he said, Pope Francis is going to confirm Christians in their faith, and to build bridges with members of other religions with the hope of strengthening the basis for a future of peace.
Photo: A worker hangs the Vatican flag on a utility pole in Najaf, Iraq, on February 27 (CNS Photo)