The Vatican announced that Pope Francis will make a historic trip to Iraq next year, his first apostolic visit in 15 months. And Victorian teacher and former Iraqi refugee Jwan Kada believes Pope Francis’ visit to the Middle Eastern nation could not come at a better time. ‘It's great news,’ she says. ‘My initial response was, I wish I could go with him.’

Jwan was born in Baghdad, leaving in 1996 as an Iraqi refugee to come to Australia. She currently resides in Melbourne.

Pope Francis will be the first pontiff to visit Iraq and has long expressed a desire to visit.

‘It’s news we need, especially because of Covid. Iraq really suffered because of Covid. It was not on the news as much as other countries, but I know a lot of Iraqi people contracted the virus. It’s a country that's often forgotten by the world.’

‘Pope Francis' visit is a sign of hope for a place that's really torn by war and political and civil unrest.’

Iraq is home to many different eastern rite churches, both Catholic and Orthodox including the Chaldeans. ‘Chaldeans are a big Christian group and a part of the Catholic Church,’ Jwan says. ‘But we’re a minority group in Iraq, and we've suffered a lot of persecution.’

‘I felt really happy to be a part of a community visited by the Pope,’ she adds. ‘And it's a sign of hope for all the Iraqi people, not just the Christians.’

According to the Vatican Press Office statement, the March trip will feature visits to Iraqi cities that have been most affected by conflict over past decades including Baghdad, Erbil, as well as Mosul and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh. The Pope is making a point, Jwan believes, of visiting war-torn cities to meet the poorest people in long-suffering pockets of Iraq.

‘Erbil has a large Chaldean community. And Mosul is one of the places badly attacked by ISIS. They have a large Christian community. The Pope will also visit Qaraqosh. In the last five years, the largest refugee group that came from Iraq was from Qaraqosh.’

According to the Vatican, one of the aims of the trip is to comfort Iraq’s Christian population, many of whom have been forced to flee Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

‘The Chaldeans are scattered across the globe now,' Jwan says. ‘And at the moment, there are more Chaldeans outside of Iraq and there are in Iraq, even though we are the indigenous people of Iraq.’

Pope Francis is expected to receive an enthusiastic welcome from all religious traditions.

‘There, the Pope is respected by all religions, so it will be an epic event for the Iraqi people,’ Jwan says. ‘And hospitality is a huge thing for us, and I know that he will be made very welcome.’

And the local dishes the Pope might be treated to during his stay? ‘Dolma is a huge Iraqi Chaldean dish. He'll definitely be fed to Dolma, because every Iraqi loves that.’

‘I think 2021 will be a year of hope globally, and especially a year of hope for a minority indigenous group in Iraq. It’s fantastic. I wish I could go.’