Responding to the increasingly dramatic situation of Christians in Iraq following the expansion of ISIS forces to the plain of Nineveh, Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Fernando Filoni as his personal envoy.
“In light of the grave situation in Iraq, the Holy Father has nominated Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of peoples, as his personal envoy to express his spiritual closeness to the people who suffer and to bring them the solidarity of the Church,” an Aug. 8 statement from the Vatican read.
No further information has been released regarding Cardinal Filoni’s appointment or the date of his departure.
The city of Qaraqoush fell to forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – known as ISIS – Wednesday night. The town was one of Iraq’s largest Christian towns until the Kurdish military forces known as the Peshmerga withdrew from it.
Qaraqoush is located roughly 19 miles southeast of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which Islamic State forces captured in June.
Thousands of Christians and other minorities fled Mosul following a July 18 ultimatum demanding they convert, pay the jizya tax or be killed. They scattered to other towns in the Nineveh province and in Iraqi Kurdistan.
BBC reports that Islamic State militants have taken down crosses and burned religious manuscripts in Qaraqoush, which is referred to as the Christian capital of Iraq.
Qaraqoush Christians and their churches had been receiving refugees from other parts of Iraq. The occupation by Islamic State forces has meant the end of salaries for government employees and the end of government-supplied ration cards, causing further hardship for the residents.
In an Aug. 7 statement published by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, it’s president, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, thanked Pope Francis for his “attentive closeness” to the more than 100,000 Christians who fled Qaraqosh during ISIS’ attack and are now traveling, many on foot, to Erbil and other Kurdish cities.
Noting how they are traveling “in impossible conditions in search of refuge” and face “the increasingly uncertain possibility of survival,” the cardinal sympathized with their “immense pain” and called for “more intense prayer.”
He encouraged greater prayer “to the Lord for the population affected by a barbarianism that is totally contrary to human dignity as well as his full human and Christian solidarity with them.”
Cardinal Sandri also expressed his hope “that the civil world, public authorities and international organizations” not hesitate to provide “the necessary humanitarian interventions” and to “stop, especially in Iraq and Syria, the painful and profoundly unjust exodus of Christians from the land they have inhabited for two thousand years.”
“These are acts against God and against every sense of humanity,” the cardinal stated, and on behalf of the congregation, urged “the authorities and those who are sensitive to the plight of Christians in the East” to do “with great urgency” whatever is “essential to alleviate their suffering.”
“Deprived of water, food and every other type of necessity, especially children, the elderly and the sick, are in the most unbearable tribulation.”
“It is feared,” he said, “that there will be a catastrophic epilogue if we do not put an end to the marked general insecurity fueled by the indifference of many, which has been repeatedly denounced.”