By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service
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 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 armored 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.
In conjunction with the media briefing, the Vatican released a detailed schedule for the trip. The times given are local, with Eastern Time in parentheses:
Friday, March 5 (Rome-Baghdad)
— 7:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
— 2 p.m. (6 a.m.) Arrival and official welcome at Baghdad International Airport.
— 2:10 p.m. (6:10 a.m.) Meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in the VIP hall of Baghdad International Airport.
— 3 p.m. (7 a.m.) Welcoming ceremony and courtesy visit with Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace.
— 3:45 p.m. (7:45 a.m.) Meeting with authorities, civil society leaders and members of the diplomatic corps in the hall of the presidential palace. Speech by pope.
— 4:40 p.m. (8:40 a.m.) Meeting with bishops, priests, religious men and women, seminarians and catechists in the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance. Speech by pope.
Saturday, March 6 (Baghdad, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Baghdad)
— 7:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m. March 5) Departure by plane for Najaf.
— 8:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) Arrival at Najaf Airport.
— 9 a.m. (1 a.m.) Courtesy visit to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
— 10 a.m. (2 a.m.) Departure by plane to Nasiriyah.
— 10:50 a.m. (2:50 a.m.) Arrival at Nasiriyah airport.
— 11:10 a.m. (3:10 a.m.) Interreligious meeting on the plain of Ur. Speech by pope.
— 12:30 p.m. (4:30 a.m.) Departure by plane for Baghdad.
— 1:20 p.m. (5:20 a.m.) Arrival at Baghdad International Airport.
— 6 p.m. (10 a.m.) Mass in the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph. Homily by pope.
Sunday, March 7 (Baghdad, Irbil, Mosul, Qaraqosh, Irbil, Baghdad)
— 7:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. March 6) Departure by plane for Irbil.
— 8:20 a.m. (12:20 a.m.) Arrival at Irbil airport. Welcome from the religious and civil authorities of the Autonomous Region of Iraqi Kurdistan in the presidential VIP lounge at the airport.
— 8:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) Meeting with the president and prime minister of the Autonomous Region of Iraqi Kurdistan in the presidential VIP lounge at the airport.
— 9 a.m. (1 a.m.) Departure by helicopter for Mosul.
— 9:35 a.m. (1:35 a.m.) Arrival in Mosul.
— 10 a.m. (2 a.m.) Memorial prayer for the victims of the war at Hosh al-Bieaa (church square) in Mosul. Prayer of the pope.
— 10:55 a.m. (2:55 a.m.) Departure by helicopter for Qaraqosh.
— 11:10 a.m. (3:10 a.m.) Arrival in Qaraqosh.
— 11:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.) Visit with the community at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Speech by pope and recitation of the Angelus prayer.
— 12:15 p.m. (4:15 a.m.) Transfer to Irbil.
— 4 p.m. (8 a.m.) Mass at Franso Hariri Stadium. Homily by pope.
— 6:10 p.m. (10:10 a.m.) Departure for Baghdad.
— 7:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.) Arrival at Baghdad International Airport.
Monday, March 8 (Baghdad, Rome)
— 9:20 a.m. (1:20 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Baghdad International Airport.
— 9:40 a.m. (1:40 a.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.
— 12:55 p.m. (6:55 a.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino International Airport.