Pope Francis used unusually strong language to condemn the actions of Islamists in their continuing campaign against minorities in Iraq on Sunday and called for an end to violence in the name of God. A high-ranking special Vatican envoy is due to leave for northern Iraq on Monday.
In his traditional Sunday blessing, Francis said the news from the country had left him “in dismay and disbelief”. Without referring by name to the Islamic State (Isis), whose jihadists are largely responsible for the persecution, the pope deplored reports of “thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women kidnapped; people massacred; [and] violence of every kind.”
He added: “All this gravely offends God and humanity. Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God. War is not to be waged in the name of God.”
Iraqi authorities have reported that Isis has kidnapped hundreds of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority after seizing the north-western town of Sinjar. Up to 100,000 Christians are thought to have fled for their lives towards Iraqi Kurdistan.
In an apparent reference to the US-led air campaign to deliver relief to the civilians fleeing Isis, Francis said: “I thank those who, with courage, are bringing succour to these brothers and sisters, and I am confident that an effective political solution on both the international and the local levels may be found to stop these crimes and re-establish [the rule of] law.”
On Friday, the pope named Cardinal Fernando Filoni as his personal envoy to Iraq. Plans are also being made for a meeting in Rome, probably in September, of all the Vatican’s diplomatic representatives in the region. The aim is to organise support for those who have been forced to flee the jihadists.
The 68-year-old Filoni is a Vatican heavyweight who was considered a candidate for the papacy in the runup to the election last year at which Francis was chosen.
At an earlier stage in his career, he served for six years as the Holy See’s ambassador to Jordan and Iraq during the final stages of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Filoni was among the few foreign diplomats to remain in Baghdad during the bombing of the city by US-led forces in 2003.
The pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the cardinal would travel to Iraqi Kurdistan, where the majority of Christian refugees are sheltering.
In an interview published in Avvenire, the daily of the Italian bishops’ conference, Filoni appeared to blame the deterioration of the situation in Iraq on the US-led invasion 11 years ago. “Since 2003, the situation has never improved,” he was quoted as saying.
“I believe [Pope] John Paul II was right when he warned the political leaders at that time to rediscover the paths of a peace that was not [found] and for [the lack of which] we are suffering these consequences today.”
The pope also discussed the fighting in Gaza, which he described as “a war that cuts down innocent victims and does nothing but worsen the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians”.
He also mentioned the battle against Ebola, which has killed close to 1,000 people in west Africa, calling on his followers to “pray for the victims of the Ebola virus and for those who are fighting to stop it”.