Pope Francis indicated on Thursday that he would not be visiting Iraq this year as he had hoped to do.
His improvised comments to a group of visiting Iraqis during his general audience in St. Peter's Square were his clearest yet that the potentially dangerous trip had been indefinitely postponed.
Speaking to pilgrims from the Middle East during his general audience address, the pope gave a special welcome to people from Iraq, who he said were present in a “nice group.”
“Citizens of Iraq, I tell you I am very close to you. You are in a battlefield, you suffer a war, from one side and the other,” Francis said.
The pope said he is praying for peace in Iraq and referred to his hope to visit the country in 2020.
“I pray for you and I pray for peace in your country, which it was planned that I visit this year,” Francis said. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni subsequently confirmed that a papal visit to Iraq will not take place this year.
Pope Francis said in June he would like to visit Iraq in 2020 and two Catholic bishops from the country had also referred to the possibility of a papal trip there.