The Alitalia Airbus A330 jet took off from Rome–Fiumicino International Airport (FCO) in Italy to Baghdad International Airport (BGW), Iraq. The flight, which facilitates Pope Francis’ visiting the country, is the first time ever when the head of the Catholic Church will meet Iraq’s Christians.
On March 5, 2021, Alitalia’s Airbus A330-200 aircraft, registered as EI-EJK, was spotted heading to Baghdad International Airport (BGW), facilitating a historic Pope Francis visit to Iraq.
The unusual flight (AZ4000) marks the historical, first-ever papal visit to Iraq. According to the Vatican media, the Pope plans to stay in the country until March 8, 2021. In the course of the trip, Pope Francis will visit Iraq’s Christian community and call for peace in meetings with political and other religious leaders. The Pope also plans to meet the country’s most revered Shia Muslim cleric as well as to say a prayer in Mosul and celebrate Mass in a soccer stadium in the Kurdish town of Erbil.
Pope Francis has insisted on the trip despite the growing cases of the COVID-19 virus in the country and concerns over his security. Speaking to the media on March 2, 2021, Matteo Bruni, a Vatican spokesman, outlined that the Pope argued its decision emphasizing the relatively young age of many Iraqis. A spokesman also pointed out that the Pope would travel in a closed car so as not to attract the crowds. Besides, to minimize the risks of infection, “no more than a few hundred [distanced] people“ would be allowed to gather to see the Pope in the stadium.
It is the first Pope Francis’ international flight since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.