HANAR Keka, a young Iraqi Catholic studying in Brisbane, is over the moon that Pope Francis will visit her home country next year and would love to be there.
The Holy See has announced Pope Francis will visit Iraq on March 5-8 next year.
As soon as she heard the news Ms Keka, 31, immediately started making plans for how she might return home to Erbil to be there when the Pope visited.
“My brother sent me a message (late) last night saying that the Pope was going to visit, and I thought, ‘Is this true?’,” she said on Tuesday morning.
“When I looked, it was all over social media.
“This will be such a special time (for Iraq).
“It will bring a lot of hope, and it will remind people of the real Iraq – the Iraq they have forgotton, the land of Mesopotamia, the land of Abraham, and even of Adam.
“This is the Garden of Eden.”
Ms Keka said she would do her best to return to Iraq and to be there when Pope Francis visited Erbil.
She said there would be no problem returning to Iraq but she was not sure about re-entering Australia on her student visa.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil chose Ms Keka to take up a scholarship from the Ursuline Sisters to study at the Australian Catholic University and then to return to his archdiocese for a key role in education.
Ms Keka recently graduated with a master’s degree in Education Leadership and is completing a second master’s degree in Teaching (Secondary School).
In announcing the Pope’s visit, the Vatican said “he will visit Baghdad, the plain of Ur, linked to the memory of Abraham, the city of Erbil, as well as Mosul and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh”.
The Pope’s itinerary will be released at a later date, and will “take into consideration the evolution of the worldwide health emergency”.
Meeting with Catholic aid agencies in June 2019, the Pope said he planned to travel to Iraq in 2020.
“I think constantly of Iraq – where I want to go next year – in the hope that it can face the future through the peaceful and shared pursuit of the common good on the part of all elements of society, including the religious, and not fall back into hostilities sparked by the simmering conflicts of the regional powers,” he said then.
The Holy See Press Office said the Pope’s visit would come as the realisation of a dream of his predecessor Pope St John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II had planned to travel to Iraq at the end of 1999 but Saddam Hussein postponed that trip after months of negotiations.
The Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako said Pope Francis would receive an enthusiastic welcome to Iraq.
The Holy See Press Office said preparations for Pope Francis’ visit seemed to be nearing completion early this year when he met Iraq President Barham Salih at an audience in the Vatican on January 25.
The Holy See Press Office said at the time that the two spoke about “preserving the historical presence of Christians in the country” and “highlighting the need to guarantee their security and a place in the future of Iraq”.