“The Islamic State has taken control of large swaths of territory in northern Iraq, leaving a trail of destruction, burning and looting ancient churches and mosques, homes and businesses,” Bishop Richard E. Pates, the U.S. bishops’ chairman of International Justice and Peace, said July 25.
“Thousands have fled with little more than the clothes on their backs, often being robbed of their few personal possessions as they ran,” he said in a letter to U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Bishop Pates, who heads the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, cited a July 22 statement from bishops of the Chaldean Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Churches.
The Iraqi bishops appealed to the Iraqi government to protect Christians’ rights and the rights of other minorities targeted for violence and displacement. They also urged financial assistance and social services for the displaced.
Bishop Pates stressed the need for humanitarian aid directly provided to minority communities through trusted non-governmental organizations in order to prevent its diversion to other purposes.
He urged the U.S. government to “do all it can to provide this critical assistance to those in desperate straits and to work with other governments in an effort to stop the violence.”
Bishop Pates cited Pope Francis’ words, “violence is defeated with peace.”
Iraq’s Christians have been hit particularly hard by the rise of the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL.
Only 20 Christian families remain in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, an ancient center of Christianity, following the city’s conquest by ISIS forces, the BBC reports.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Babylon, who is based in Baghdad, estimated that there were about 35,000 Christians in Mosul before the city’s fall, down from 60,000 before the 2003 U.S. invasion.
The French government has offered asylum to the Iraqi Christians who have fled Mosul.
“We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory,” France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius and interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, members of the ruling Socialist government, said in a joint statement.
French opposition party the National Front on July 26 held a rally in Paris to support Iraqi Christians, BBC News reports.
The U.S. bishops have urged the U.S. government to assist Iraqi Christian victims of persecution, while France has offered asylum to Iraqi Christians who have fled Mosul.
Religious freedom, Persecuted Christians, Religious persecution, Iraqi Christians