Pope Francis wrote United Nations general secretary Ban Ki-moon, asking him to act to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway in Iraq.
The letter, received by Ban Aug. 13, is the latest of the Pope’s interventions to stop the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq. In it, Pope Francis writes that he has been following “the dramatic events of these past few days in Northern Iraq” with “heavy and anguished heart.”
“Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony," the Pope wrote.
The militant Sunni Islamist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was among the rebels fighting in the Syrian civil war; this spring it spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country's north and west, as well as in northern Syria.
It has now declared a caliphate, and calls itself the Islamic State (ISIS). In Syria on Aug. 13, ISIS seized a string of towns located northeast of Aleppo and near the Turkish border, including Akhtarin. On Aug. 11 it had seized the Iraqi town of Jalawla, located 90 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province.
All non-Sunni persons have been persecuted by the Islamic State – tens of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims have fled the territory.
In his letter to the U.N., Pope Francis said he appointed Cardinal Filoni as his special envoy to Iraq in order to “manifest my spiritual closeness and to express my concern, and that of the entire Catholic Church, for the intolerable suffering of those who only wish to live in peace, harmony and freedom in the land of their forefathers.”
Pope Francis placed before the UN general secretary “the tears, the suffering and heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq,” and renewed his “urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway”.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, there are more than 1.2 million internally displaced persons in Iraq, as well as at least 10,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria.
“The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity,” Pope Francis stressed.
Among these acts of solidarity, he suggested the protection of those affected or threatened by violence, the assurance of necessary, urgent assistance for the many displaced people, as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes.
The Pope underscored that “the tragic experiences of the twentieth century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanism of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.”
Pope Francis then united his appeal to those of the Oriental Patriarchs and other religious leaders, stating his confidence that the appeal “will meet with a positive reply.”