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Papal envoy says Iraqi minorities facing genocide and calls for urgent action

Iraqi woman

Urgent need: An elderly Iraqi woman fleeing violence gestures at the Al Waleed refugee camp in Iraq on August 19.
Photo: CNS/Morris Bernard, UNHCR handout via EPA

POPE Francis’ special envoy to Iraq has said Christians and religious minorities in the country are facing genocide and the international community must act quickly to come to their aid.

In an interview with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire Wednesday, Cardinal Fernando Filoni said Iraqis had told him the world must urgently help them and “not wait until they are in a hopeless situation”.

“We are faced with a tragedy that is genocide,” Cardinal Filoni said, “because when all the men are taken and killed, when women are robbed, taken away, their dignity violated in the worst human way and then sold, then you are destroying these people, knowing that in this way they will no longer have a future.”

The special envoy, who has been in Iraq and Jordan since August 12, was speaking after celebrating Mass in Ankawa, an Assyrian suburb of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Pope Francis sent Cardinal Filoni to the region after Islamic State terrorists brutally drove Christians and Yazidis from their homes in northern Iraq.

Asked about offering the religious minorities international protection, the Church diplomat echoed comments made by other Church leaders in suggesting that military action was necessary but on a multilateral basis. The international community “must intervene to take responsibility for the situation and not only morally”, he said. “It’s nice to say we defend these people, but they are dying. How can they be removed from the clutches of these predators? There’s already an answer.”

He said a “stable solution” must be found to the refugee crisis, and that the primary responsibility for dealing with those displaced rested with the civil authorities, but with help from international bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union. “We must act at different levels and with different capacities,” he said.

The special envoy said his presence on behalf of the Pope has been much appreciated. “My visit has been of great benefit,” he said. Thousands, he said, had told him and the authorities: “Thank you for coming to see how we are”, “please don’t forget about us,” and “tell people about us”.

“As a pastor,” Cardinal Filoni said, “I feel that these are the forgotten sheep that, as Pope Francis said, we must take on our shoulders.” He said the local Church, bishops and patriarchy had all “given an extraordinary hand”, and although they alone cannot give hope, “we promise to be always present”. He said “walking in the midst” of the Iraqi people “gives us strength and gives them strength to want to continue living here”.

“As (Iraq’s) President Barzani said, ‘This is a mosaic of large stones and small stones, but even removing only one piece of the jigsaw, we are no longer the same: this is not Iraq.’ We must ensure that these stones do not fall, but are part of this co-existence. We must find a means to foster peaceful co-existence.”


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