Pope Francis’s three-day visit to Iraq was a boon to the diminishing Christian group, a lift for the beleaguered Iraqi authorities — and a potential well being hazard, as many members discovered social distancing inconceivable and disregarded masks.
The journey, the primary papal go to to the nation, got here at a weak time. Iraq reported document each day highs of greater than 5,000 infections this week, and its leaders have carried out curfews. The nation’s vaccination marketing campaign started solely final week, and lots of Iraqis are cautious of presidency well being packages, so few within the inhabitants of practically 40 million have obtained even a single shot.
The pope and his entourage have been vaccinated, and the Vatican had dismissed fears that enormous occasions through the journey would possibly unfold the virus, saying that precautions could be taken to attenuate threat.
However Iraqis are typically unaccustomed to carrying masks and lots of stay and work in crowded circumstances, so they’re additionally unused to social distancing. Once they gathered in massive numbers to see the pope, mask-wearing was removed from common.
The virus is much extra simply transmitted indoors than outdoor, however most Iraqis wrongly consider that there is no such thing as a outside transmission in any respect. In some cities the place the pope appeared, hundreds of individuals jammed collectively within the streets to await his arrival. At providers, choirs have been typically unmasked.
At a Mass within the city of Qaraqosh, about half the congregation was unmasked. One other service, on Sunday, was held in a stadium in Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional capital. Church officers had mentioned that about 5,000 tickets could be distributed, however Kurdish tv reported that about 10,000 folks attended.
Within the streets of Ankawa, the Christian enclave of Erbil, hundreds of individuals holding flowers and olive branches stood behind plastic tape strung between obstacles, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope as he drove to the stadium. Musicians performed drums and flutes as youngsters danced on the sidewalk.
The pope himself was typically masked, typically not. He didn’t put on one when first arriving in Baghdad. Photographs and a short video of a gathering with one in every of Iraq’s most revered and weak residents, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, confirmed neither the pope nor the Shiite cleric masked.
Ayatollah Sistani has not been vaccinated, along with his workplace saying he needs to verify others have entry first. He has declared the vaccine religiously permissible.