As Iraqi Christians fight for survival in the face of the onslaught waged by Islamic State, Pope Francis lamented over the weekend the fact that “Christians are being driven from the Middle East in suffering,” and called for change.
According to the Vatican News Agency, Francis delivered the message via video on Saturday to the Christians of the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. The pontiff’s remarks were relayed as part of the visit to the area by French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin.
“It would seem that there [Muslim extremists] do not want there to be any Christians, but you bear witness to Christ,” Francis said. “I think of the wounds, of the pain of women with their children, the elderly and the displaced, the wounds of those who are victims of every type of violence.”
The Pontiff highlighted the concern that extremist and fundamentalists groups are causing entire communities of Christian and Yazidis to suffer “inhuman violence” due to their religious and ethnic identities.
Not only have human lives been taken by the extremists, he added, but Iraqi holy buildings, monuments, religious symbols and Christian cultural heritage have been destroyed. Despite this violence, those in Iraq have remained true to their religious beliefs.
“Christians and Yazidis have been forced out of their homes, they have had to abandon everything to save their lives, but they have not denied their faith,” Francis proclaimed.
Francis’s message to Iraqi Christians comes on the heels of a visit to Turkey, during which he appealed to Muslim Leaders to help end anti-Christian violence in the Middle East and stand up against “violence which damages Islam.”
The Pope reiterated that same message in his video address. “As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations of the dignity and rights of humanity,” Francis said. Francis called for a means to resolve the conflict and prayed for new-found strength and resistance among Iraqi Christians in the face of persecution.
Since the conflict began, more than 250,000 Christians have fled amid ISIS persecution. Others have had to convert from Christianity to Islam as a means of preserving their lives.
“And I strongly urge, as I did in Turkey, greater international collaboration to resolve the conflicts that cause blood to be shed in your lands of origin, to combat the other causes that lead people to leave their homelands and to promote suitable conditions for them to remain or return.”
Francis said. “I hope that you will return, that you will be able to return.”