As Iraq’s largest Christian city fell into the hands of the Islamic State, Pope Francis issued an urgent appeal asking for peace, and called for worldwide efforts to assist those affected by increasing violence.
“In light of the very distressing events, the Holy Father renews his spiritual closeness to the many who are experiencing this extremely painful trial,” an Aug. 7 statement from the Vatican read.
“He joins with the heartfelt appeals of the local bishops, asking, together with them and for their troubled communities, that a chorus of incessant prayer may rise from the whole Church to invoke the Holy Spirit for the gift of peace.”
Going on, the statement also included an “urgent appeal” to the entire international community, “so that, actively taking steps to end the humanitarian tragedy taking place, efforts be made to protect all those affected or threatened by violence.”
He asked for global efforts “to ensure all necessary assistance – especially the most needed aid – to the great multitude of displaced persons whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.”
According to BBC News, the militant Sunni Islamist organization Islamic State of Iraq captured the city of Qaraqosh, located in the Nineveh province, overnight following the withdrawal of Kurdish army forces.
Having been the country’s largest Christian town, sources close to BBC state that thousands are fleeing. Reports reveal that at least a quarter of Iraqi Christians are leaving Qaraqosh and surrounding areas, and as many as 100,000 people are believed to be heading toward the autonomous Kurdistan Region.
Qaraqosh’s fall comes just days after the Islamic State took control of Sinjar, a Yazidi-majority town fewer than 80 miles west of Mosul, Aug. 3.
These mark the latest efforts in an operation launched by ISIS earlier this spring with the intention of establishing a caliphate. Since June they have taken control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country's north and west. The extremist group now refers to itself as the Islamic State.
The Vatican message assured that the Pope is following “the dramatic news coming from northern Iraq” with “deep concern,” and is particularly distressed over the danger to “defenseless people,” most especially the Christian community, who are at greatest risk.
Iraqi Christians, the statement read, are “a people fleeing their villages because of the violence that in these days is raging and disturbing the nation.”
Thousands of Christians and other minorities fled Mosul after a July 18 ultimatum demanding they convert, pay jizya or be killed. They went to other towns in Nineveh province and in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Many were stripped of their possessions at Islamic State checkpoints, escaping with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Inhabitants of Mosul who have fled to other locations in Nineveh province, such as Bakhdida, lack drinking water, electricity and medicine, the Islamic State having cut off their supplies.
Repeating the Pope’s appeal for peace made during his Sunday, July 20, Angelus address, the Vatican message lamented that “Our brothers are persecuted, they are driven out, they have to leave their houses without having the possibility of taking anything with them.”
“Dearest brothers and sisters who are so persecuted, I know how much you suffer, I know that you are stripped of everything. I am with you in the faith of the one who has conquered evil!”
In conclusion, the Roman Pontiff called upon “the conscience of all,” and assured each believer that “The God of peace will awaken in all the authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation.”
“Violence will not defeat violence. Violence is defeated by peace! Let us pray in silence, asking for peace; everyone, in silence...Mary Queen of Peace, pray for us!”