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In a Monday address to members of a group of charities that help Christians in the Middle East and other areas, Pope Francis declared that he wants to travel to Iraq next year, making it his first ever papal trip there.

 “A constant thought accompanies me when I think of Iraq,” he said in prepared remarks, then adding: “Where I have the will to go next year.”

Wars and conflicts have led to an exodus of Christians in Iraq and some other countries in the Middle East. Iraq’s small Christian population of several hundred thousand suffered particular hardships when Islamic State controlled large parts of the country, however, they have recovered freedoms since the jihadists were pushed out.

Iraq is home to many different eastern rite churches, both Catholic and Orthodox.

In 2000, the late Pope John Paul wanted to visit the ancient Iraqi city of Ur, traditionally held to be the birthplace of Abraham. It was to have been the first leg of a three-step pilgrimage to Iraq, Egypt and Israel.

But negotiations with the government of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein broke down and he was unable to go.

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