Pope Francis departs from Rome for historic first-ever visit by a pontiff to Iraq (photos)

Pope Francis on Friday, March 5, embarked on an historic trip to war-battered Iraq to comfort one of the world’s oldest and most persecuted Christian communities where more than a million have fled over the past 20 years.

The 84-year-old, who earlier said he was making the first-ever papal visit to Iraq as a ‘pilgrim of peace,’ will also meet the Shiite Muslims when he visits Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The pope left Rome early Friday for the four-day journey, after boarding a flight at Leonardo da Vinci airport bound for the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

After his arrival in Iraq, the Pope will travel more than 870 miles by plane and helicopter, flying over areas where security forces are still battling IS remnants, Mail Online reports. 

For shorter trips, Francis will take an armoured car on paved roads that will be lined with flowers and posters welcoming the leader known there as ‘Baba Al-Vatican’.

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