The Latest: Iraqis gather ahead of pope’s arrival

BAGHDAD (AP) – The Latest on Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq to deliver a message of hope to the country’s dwindling Christian community following years of unrest and amid a devastating pandemic (all times local):

11:30 a.m.

Dozens of Christians are gathering at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Baghdad hours before Pope Francis was due to land in Iraq for a first papal visit to the war-weary country.

Men, women and children gathered inside the church early in the morning. Many were not wearing masks and sat close to each other. One man tapped his feet impatiently, as they waited to be shuttled to the airport in buses.

The papal visit has raised alarm among public health experts, who fear large crowds will inevitably gather to see the pope.

Iraq is confronting a worsening coronavirus outbreak driven by a more infectious strain that first appeared in the U.K.

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