Pope sends this message to Israel as his plane flies over Holy Land

After arriving in Iraq, the pope met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Saturday, one of the most powerful clerics in Shiite Islam.

By World Israel News Staff

During Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq over the weekend, air traffic control in northern Israel relayed to President Reuven Rivlin a recorded message from the pilot of the plane.

The aircraft passed through Israeli airspace on the flight from Rome to Baghdad.

In the message, the Pope said, “To His Excellency Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel. Entering Israeli airspace on my Apostolic journey to Iraq, I send warm greetings to you and the people of the nation. Praying that almighty God will bless you all with His gifts of harmony and peace. Franciscus Papa.”

“Air traffic control of the Israel Airports Authority in the north of the country thanked the pilot and promised to convey the message to the president, who was deeply moved by the kind words from the Pope, with whom he is in close and warm contact,” said a statement issued by the Israeli government in response.

After arriving in Iraq, the pope met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Saturday, one of the most powerful clerics in Shiite Islam.

While the ayatollah commented that religious authorities must protect Iraq’s Christians, they continue to face violent persecution at the hands of their Muslim neighbors throughout the Middle East.

According to a 2019 interim study ordered by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and led by Rev. Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro, “Christian persecution” is “at near genocide levels” in the region. The report documents that Iraq’s Christian population dropped to below 120,000 as of 2019 from 1.5 million less than 20 years earlier.

“Christianity is at risk of disappearing, representing a massive setback for plurality in the region,” said the report.

Iraq also drove out and slaughtered its Jewish population during the twentieth century, ending close to two millennia of Jewish presence in the area. During World War II, Jews faced Nazi-inspired pogroms and massacres in Iraq (“Farhud”), which was ruled by Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, an ally of Adolf Hitler.

During the holocaust, the Iraqi government tried to force the nation’s Jews into a ghetto.

According to an Associated Press report, the Vatican invited Iraqi Jews to the event on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, but none attended.

As of 2020, the U.S. State Department reported that there were less than six adult members in Baghdad’s once thriving Jewish community.