Thousands of largely unmasked and almost certainly un-vaccinated Iraqis gathered in Franso Hariri stadium in Irbil on Sunday to get a glimpse of Pope Francis, who is winding up a four-day, six-city apostolic visit. The Vatican estimated that around 10,000 people would be socially distanced in the 50,000-capacity stadium, but several journalists traveling with the pope tweeted that the numbers seemed far higher and that there was no safe distancing. Everyone traveling with the pope on his first visit since the pandemic began, including the more than 70 journalists, have been vaccinated courtesy of the Vatican, but Iraq’s vaccine rollout program is not set to start until later this month.
The pope’s trip has centered on inter-religious dialogue. On Sunday morning, he visited several Catholic churches that were destroyed by the Islamic State, which had threatened in propaganda to hang their flag in St. Peter’s Square before being largely defeated. The pope and his entourage return to Rome on Monday and will not have to quarantine, according to Italian authorities.