The Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church has spoken out against the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq, calling for dialogue and immediate humanitarian aid.

"Such calamity and cruelty of adherents to one religion can never be defended by cowardly and falsely invoking another religion," said the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. "Such brutal acts are categorically unacceptable and unjustifiable before both God and humankind."

"We will not remain indifferent or silent before such irrational persecution, cultural intolerance and appalling loss of life, especially when it is caused by religious hatred and racial hostility," he said in an Aug. 13 statement.

The persecution and the targeting of tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities, Patriarch Bartholomew stressed, "can never be justified in the name of any religious creed or conviction."

Brutal violence continues to plague Iraq as militants with the Islamic State, known as ISIS, have taken control of numerous cities and ordered Christians and other religious minorities to convert, pay a tax known as a jizya, or be killed.

Patriarch Bartholomew warned that the violence in Iraq threatens not only religious minorities, but "an entire civilization."

"The victimization and extermination of women and children, as well as of the elderly and disabled, for any reason whatsoever – much more so in the supposed name of religious conviction – is a repudiation of our own future," he added.

The patriarch, who is widely known for his contribution to dialogue and peace-building efforts, appealed to all involved religious leaders and political authorities "to promote conversation to resolve dispute, and to support peaceful means to overcome conflict."

"Violence never is pacified by violence, and hatred is only overcome by tolerance."

The call to dialogue and encounter is essential for leaders in all conflict-ridden parts of the world, the patriarch said, referencing the situation in Gaza and Israel and the interfaith peace summit held at the Vatican in June, at which he and Pope Francis prayed with Presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas.

However, "(t)he situation in Iraq is especially critical," he noted. "The humanitarian predicament is more urgent than ever. Our response must be immediate and tangible."

Patriarch Bartholomew called on "every responsible organization and every person of good will – beyond any support through perpetual and persistent prayer – to assist with material and humanitarian resources so that these innocent victims may no longer endure hunger, suffering, and death."