CNS PHOTO | RODI SAID, REUTERS
Children flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, Aug. 10. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been forced to flee their country.
August 25, 2014
WCR NEWS SERVICES
Pope Francis and other Catholic leaders are pleading for help to liberate villages in Iraq controlled by the Islamic State terrorists and to provide the displaced with international protection.
Church leaders have deplored the persecution of Christians and other minorities throughout the Middle East, especially in northeastern Iraq, and called for Catholics to pray for peace and provide material aid to those fleeing the violence.
In a letter signed Aug. 9, the pope formally asked UN agencies and the entire international community "to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway" in northeastern Iraq.
He told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon immediate action is needed "to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities."
The papal letter was sent after militants of the Islamic State terrorist organization had captured Mosul in late July and Qaraqosh in early August, killing hundreds of people and forcing tens of thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic minorities from their homes.
On his flight home from Korea Aug. 18, Pope Francis said the use of force can be justified to stop "unjust aggressors" such as Islamic State militants in Iraq.
But the pope declined to endorse U.S. military airstrikes against the militants and said such humanitarian interventions should not be decided on by any single country.
The pope also said he was willing to travel to the war zone if necessary to stop the violence.
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith has invited local Catholics to a special Mass for Peace in the Middle East at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 27 at St. Joseph's Basilica.
CNS PHOTO | REUTERS
A woman and several children, who fled from violence in Nineveh province in Iraq, arrive in a covered truck at Sulaimaniya province Aug. 8.
A special collection will be taken at this Mass and in all parishes in the archdiocese in September with proceeds going to
Development and Peace and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) to help Christians suffering from conflicts in Iraq, Gaza and Syria.
The CNEWA is the pontifical agency that assists Christians in the Middle East.
Pope Francis and the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) have also called on Catholics to pray, to exert political pressure and to give generously to help Christians in Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations suffering from current violent conflicts.
In one of several public statements on the situation in Iraq, Pope Francis condemned the actions of Islamic State militants in his Angelus talk at the Vatican Aug. 10.
Persecuting Christians and other minorities "seriously offends God and seriously offends humanity," he said.
"One cannot generate hatred in God's name," he said. "One cannot make war in God's name!"
After reciting the Angelus, the pope asked tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square to join him for a moment of silent prayer for peace in Iraq and for the tens of thousands of people forced from their homes in northeastern Iraq as fighters from the Islamic State tried to increase the territory under their control.
"The news from Iraq leaves us incredulous and appalled," Pope Francis said.
"Thousands of people, including many Christians, have been chased from their homes in a brutal way; children die of thirst and hunger during the flight; women are kidnapped; people are massacred; violence of every kind; destruction everywhere."
Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the CCCB, underlined the pope's urgent appeal to pray for peace in the region.
Durocher also noted that some Canadian dioceses are inviting Catholics to urge members of Parliament to make the Middle East a federal government priority.
Some ways of raising the priority would include doing more to provide Canadian emergency and reconstruction assistance, and making it easier for Canadian communities to accept refugees, he said.
As well, Canada could be urged to take part in international efforts to foster justice and peace in the region, and insist that the world's governments respect freedom of conscience and religion as well as minority rights, Durocher said.
Canada has contributed more than $16 million to help Iraqis since the beginning of the year.
The Canadian government reports 850,000 Iraqis have fled violence in the past two months.
The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue also called Aug. 12 for Muslim leaders to condemn the "barbarity" and "unspeakable criminal acts" of Islamic State militants, saying a failure to do so would jeopardize the future of interreligious dialogue.
The Vatican listed some of the "shameful practices" recently committed by the "jihadists" of the Islamic State. Among the practices cited:
"The execrable practice of beheading, crucifixion and hanging of corpses in public places."
"The choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of tribute or exodus."
"The abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as war booty."
"The imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation," or female genital mutilation.
"No cause can justify such barbarity and certainly not a religion," the document said.
The same day, Egypt's grand mufti, Shawqi Allam, said the Islamic State fighters do not represent Islamic values or Islamic law, reported the Middle East News Agency.
It also reported that the mufti said the militants' crimes are a shame to Islam and Muslims, and that regional and international cooperation is needed to fight such groups.
Pope Francis' personal envoy to the suffering people of Iraq, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, joined the Chaldean Catholic patriarch in launching an appeal to the international community Aug. 18.
Together, they pleaded for help to liberate villages controlled by the Islamic State terrorists and to provide the displaced with international protection.
Filoni and Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad said international action is urgently needed.
The displaced need to receive basic necessities like food and water, but also help in guaranteeing the possibility of their survival in Iraq, they said.
In their appeal, the cardinal and patriarch asked nations to "take their moral responsibility seriously" by helping to liberate villages in northeastern Iraq captured by the Islamic State militants.
Earlier, Mideast Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs denounced the "total international silence" on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
In an Aug. 7 statement, the patriarchs called for Muslim religious authorities to issue fatwas, or legal edicts, banning attacks against Christians and "other innocents."
The patriarchs said they were "appalled by . . . the growing religious extremism" in the region.
The patriarchs criticized the "weak, timid and inadequate" response of Islamic, Arab and international circles.
Regarding the war in Syria, the patriarchs called upon stakeholders and countries that provide money and weapons to fuel the conflict "to stop this war."
They called the Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip "inhumane" and demanded "the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and the lifting of the siege on its sector, its people and the release of prisoners and an end to the fighting."
Meanwhile, Iraqi Christians driven from their homes by Islamic State fighters are beginning to die in crowded camps, witnesses claimed.
Sahar Mansour, who lectured in chemistry at the University of Mosul before fleeing the city in June, said newborn babies, the sick and the elderly in the Ankawa refugee camp on the outskirts of Irbil are dying from diseases, thirst and malnutrition. Mansour now lives in the camp.
She told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 11 email, "A lot of people are sick: elderly, infants and pregnant women sitting under the sun, and they cannot catch their breath.
"People are dying because of the shortage of medicine, water and food.
"We are facing the risk of a real genocide and a human catastrophe," Mansour said. "We need protection. Please save our lives; we cannot stay in this country anymore."
Letter to the Editor – 09/08/14