Pope Francis has said he is 'ready to go to Iraq', according to the patriarch of the Chaldean Church.
The Chaldean bishops of Iraq and Syria, regions which have seen a mass exodus of Christians in recent years following war and Islamist terror, met with Pope Francis in Rome this week, according to Rome Reports.
'He told us, "I'm ready to go to Iraq." We told him we wanted him to be with us in the middle of this crisis,' said Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako.
'He responded by saying he was ready to go to Iraq.'
Sako said recent developments in the country had made a papal visit more problematic. 'I don't think the current situation helps, above all, the problem with the Kurdish. It would have been easier before. I even submitted a programme for a one-day papal visit.'
Though the Middle East region remains unstable and its infrastructure severely damaged, as many as 7,000 of the 20,000 Christians who were forced to flee Mosul and the Nineveh plains have been able to return home since their homes were liberated from ISIS control.
'Security in Iraq has improved. Iraqis want to reconcile. They want stability. I think the lesson has been learned, especially in Islam,' Sako said.
Sako described positive joint Muslim-Christian efforts at refugee rehabilitation in the war-torn region. On the state of faith and religious freedom in Iraq he said: 'ISIS was created in Iraq as well as Al-Qaeda 14 years ago, which is why people are asking themselves many questions, in universities, in other environments.
'There are a million atheists in Iraq. People are asking themselves 'why' and looking for an answer. Many times they come to us to ask, but legally we can't respond. I'm sure religious freedom will come, though. We need time, but you cannot impose a religion on a person who was born free.'
The patriarch also used his trip to visit the headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need, the papal charity that has been involved in rebuilding efforts in Iraq, helping displaced Christians return to their homes.