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Pope returns to Rome after historic Iraq trip

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Pope Francis laughs during a news conference while in the air aboard the Alitalia papal plane on his flight back from Iraq, March 8, 2021. (Photo by YARA NARDI / POOL / AFP)

Pope Francis returned to Rome on Monday following his trip to Iraq, the first-ever by a pontiff, according to an AFP reporter on board his plane.

The 84-year-old’s packed three-day visit passed off without a hitch despite concerns about security and the coronavirus pandemic.

“Iraq will always remain with me, in my heart,” the pope said as he concluded his largest Mass and a final public event in Iraq on Sunday in Arbil, the capital of the northern Kurdistan region.

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He later met the father of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian Kurdish toddler who became a symbol of the plight of migrants.

It capped off a trip in which Francis covered more than 1,400 kilometres (900 miles) inside the conflict-ravaged country.

He brought encouragement to Iraq’s diminished Christian community and extended a hand to Shiite Muslims by meeting top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

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