The Vatican leader’s arrival in Baghdad marks the first-ever papal visit to the biblical land and he will now begin a four-day pilgrimage in the footsteps of Abraham – an important figure recognised by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Pope went ahead with the trip despite a new spike in COVID-19 infections in Iraq and concerns over his security, as he stated Iraqi Christians could not be “let down for a second time”. Pope John Paul II cancelled plans for a trip at the end of 1999 after talks with then-President Saddam Hussein’s government broke down and since then the number of Christians in Iraq has plummeted from 1.4 million to about 250,000.
The visit of the Pope has a highly symbolic value given the importance of Iraqi Christians in the history of the country, dating back to the time of ancient Babylon, nearly 4,000 years ago.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi stated he hopes it will inspire Christians to return and help rebuild the nation after years of devastation under the hands of al-Qaeda first and, more recently, ISIS.
He said in August: “We are glad that Christians will return to Iraq and contribute to its reconstruction.
“Iraqis of all sects are yearning for a new Iraq that believes in peace and rejects violence.”
But some Bible followers have stated that “rebuilding” these ancient sites could fulfil an “overlooked” prophecy of the Bible – the “rebirth of Babylon”.
Revelation chapters 17 and 18 state that, to see the prophecy come to fruition, Babylon “must be rebuilt on a grand scale”.
The Christian Post stated in 2018: “The Bible not only shows that a literal Babylon will exist at the end of our age, but it will be resurrected in the same location as its ancient predecessor in the Middle East.”
The article claims it is “going to reemerge in the land of Shinar known today as Iraq”.
It cites Zechariah 5:11 as evidence.
Addressing the Iraqi people in a video message yesterday, the Pope said he was “coming as a pilgrim, as a penitent pilgrim, to implore from the Lord forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism, to beg from God the consolation of hearts and the healing of wounds”.
He continued: “I am coming among you also as a pilgrim of peace, seeking fraternity and prompted by the desire to pray together and to walk together, also with our brothers and sisters of other religious traditions, in the steps of Father Abraham, who joins in one family Muslims, Jews and Christians.
“I want to bring you the affectionate caress of the whole Church, which is close to you and to the war-torn Middle East, and encourages you to keep moving forward.”
Vatican officials are satisfied that Iraqi forces will be able to provide adequate protection for the Pope and his entourage.
Officials in Baghdad agreed, saying the Pope will be protected for his “vital” trip.