Pope Francis and the Holy See continue to raise awareness of the brutal persecution taking place in northern Iraq, and to pressure the international community to take action in defense of the nation's Christians and other religious minorities.
Today, the Vatican published a letter the Pope wrote Aug. 9 to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. Francis condemned the violent persecutions taking place in the country, and called on the international community to act swiftly and decisively to stop the humanitarian disaster currently taking place.
He said he placed “before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq.”
"The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq,” he added, “cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes."
Please see below the full text of the letter.
It comes after the Pope issued nine tweets over just three days appealing for peace in Iraq. It also comes a day after the Vatican gave its first and most explicit condemnation of the Islamic State, the jihadists committing atrocities in the Nineveh Plain.
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, known more for statements promoting interreligious harmony than condemnations, issued a forceful declaration noting that the world is incredulous about the Islamists’ goal of restoring the Caliphate.
It pointed out that despite opposition by Muslim groups, the jihadists “Islamic State” (IS) have not been prevented from committing, and continuing to commit, “unspeakable criminal acts.” After listing these crimes, it explicitly called on Muslims to condemn them. Failure to do so, it said, would discredit the interreligious dialogue both Catholics and Muslims have tried so hard to foster.
The full text of the declaration can be read below.
Meanwhile, two prominent Vatican diplomats have also spoken out in defense of military intervention, but without explicitly endorsing U.S. air strikes. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the papal nuncio in Baghdad, has said “something had to be done,” otherwise the Islamists “could not be stopped.” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s representative to the UN in Geneva, told Vatican Radio at the weekend that “military action in this moment is probably necessary.”
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako has criticized the Obama administration’s military action, saying it is insufficient.
Pope Francis’ special envoy to Iraq, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, arrived in Amman, Jordan, yesterday and hopes to visit the town of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, later today. The Pope told Ban Ki-moon the purpose of Cardinal Filoni’s visit is to “manifest my spiritual closeness and to express my concern, and that of the entire Catholic Church, for the intolerable suffering of those who only wish to live in peace, harmony and freedom in the land of their forefathers.”
Not since the Pope’s outspoken condemnation of violence and conflict in Syria last year has he been so pro-active about such a crisis. Further initiatives can be expected if, as seems likely, the Islamic State continues to be a significant threat to the region’s Christians and religious minorities.
Mr Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Organization
It is with a heavy and anguished heart that I have been following the dramatic events of these past few days in Northern Iraq where Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony. Moved by their plight, I have asked His Eminence Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who served as the Representative of my predecessors, Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to the people in Iraq, to manifest my spiritual closeness and to express my concern, and that of the entire Catholic Church, for the intolerable suffering of those who only wish to live in peace, harmony and freedom in the land of their forefathers.
In the same spirit, I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq. In renewing my urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, I encourage all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.
The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes. The tragic experiences of the Twentieth Century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.
Confident that my appeal, which I unite with those of the Oriental Patriarchs and other religious leaders, will meet with a positive reply, I take this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.
[01289-02.01] [Original text: English]
Declaration from Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
The whole world has witnessed with incredulity what is now called the "Restoration of the Caliphate," which had been abolished on October 29,1923 by Kamal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. Opposition to this "restoration" by the majority of religious institutions and Muslim politicians has not prevented the "Islamic State" jihadists from committing and continuing to commit unspeakable criminal acts.
This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions, and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity:
-the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation;
-the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places;
-the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of a tax (jizya) or forced exile;
-the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of people, including children, elderly, pregnant women and the sick;
-the abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as spoils of war (sabaya);
-the imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation;
-the destruction of places of worship and Christian and Muslim burial places;
-the forced occupation or desecration of churches and monasteries;
-the removal of crucifixes and other Christian religious symbols as well as those of other religious communities;
-the destruction of a priceless Christian religious and cultural heritage;
-indiscriminate violence aimed at terrorizing people to force them to surrender or flee.
No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity. This constitutes an extremely serious offense to humanity and to God who is the Creator, as Pope Francis has often reminded us. We cannot forget, however, that Christians and Muslims have lived together - it is true with ups and downs - over the centuries, building a culture of peaceful coexistence and civilization of which they are proud. Moreover, it is on this basis that, in recent years, dialogue between Christians and Muslims has continued and intensified.
The dramatic plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious communities and ethnic minorities in Iraq requires a clear and courageous stance on the part of religious leaders, especially Muslims, as well as those engaged in interreligious dialogue and all people of good will. All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?
Religious leaders are also called to exercise their influence with the authorities to end these crimes, to punish those who commit them and to reestablish the rule of law throughout the land, ensuring the return home of those who have been displaced. While recalling the need for an ethical management of human societies, these same religious leaders must not fail to stress that the support, funding and arming of terrorism is morally reprehensible.
That said, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is grateful to all those who have already raised their voices to denounce terrorism, especially that which uses religion to justify it.
Let us therefore unite our voices with that of Pope Francis: "May the God of peace stir up in each one of us a genuine desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is never defeated by violence. Violence is defeated by peace. "