Pope Francis' upcoming Iraq trip is 'dangerous': Benedict

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 01 2021 08:29 PM

Pope Francis' upcoming Iraq trip is 'dangerous': Benedict 1
Iraqi municipal workers sweep a street in front of a giant board covered with a painting of Pope Francis and set against the wall of the Sayidat al-Nejat (Our Lady of Deliverance) Catholic church, in the capital Baghdad, on Friday. Pope Francis is set to be in Iraq from March 5 to 8, the first ever by a pontiff. Ahmad Al-Rubaye, AFP

VATICAN CITY - Benedict XVI, who resigned as pontiff eight years ago, warned in an interview published Monday that Pope Francis' historic upcoming trip to Iraq was "dangerous".

"I think it's a very important trip," the 93-year-old pope emeritus, who lives in a monastery in the Vatican City, told the Corriere della Sera daily.

"Unfortunately, it comes at a very difficult time, which also makes it a dangerous trip: for reasons of security and for coronavirus." 

"And then there's the unstable situation in Iraq. I will accompany Francis with my prayers."

Francis, 84, will become the first pope to visit Iraq when he begins a packed three-day trip on Friday.

Since it was first announced in December, the Vatican has reserved the right to postpone the visit at the last minute.

But the pope, who like Benedict has been vaccinated against coronavirus, appears set on going -- even if restrictions mean most Iraqis will have to follow the trip on television.

Iraq is currently battling renewed violence as well as a second deadly wave of coronavirus infections, which has prompted overnight curfews and full weekend lockdowns.

Just days ahead of the trip, the Vatican's ambassador to Iraq Mitja Leskovar tested positive for COVID-19, two officials said Sunday.

But Francis is fulfilling the dream of a predecessor, late pope John Paul II.

In his interview, Benedict XVI -- whose real name is Joseph Ratzinger -- looked back on his shock decision to become the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign.

"It was a difficult decision. But I took it in good conscience, and I think I did the right thing," he said.

"Some of my more 'fanatical' friends are still angry, they did not want to accept my choice," he said.

He noted all the "conspiracy theories" that circulated about why he resigned, but repeated that his "conscience is clear".

The existence of two popes has caused some concern, but the German insisted: "There is one pope."

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