VATICAN CITY — The international community must view suffering Iraqi refugees not as a collective group, but as individual persons, each with his or her own story and needs, the Pope’s envoy to the country encouraged.
“We should set our sight on every child, every person. When you look at them, sitting on the ground, you don’t think them as a crowd. You think about them as single persons, about each individual story,” Cardinal Fernando Filoni told CNA Aug. 22.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis selected Cardinal Filoni as his personal envoy to Iraq. In addition to his role as the current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the cardinal served as Papal nuncio to Iraq from 2001 to 2006.
Cardinal Filoni reported to Pope Francis in a private meeting Aug. 20, upon returning from a weeklong trip to Iraq, where he had several meetings with the local authorities and spent much time with refugees, learning about the effort of the local Church to help the internally displaced persons.
“According to data I have been given, at the moment in Iraq there are 1.2 million internally displaced persons,” he said, explaining that this includes Christians, yazidis, Muslims and Chaldeans.
The papal envoy commented that there had been “a very strong intolerance, and very often minorities are at risk for discrimination in certain areas.”
The situation grew drastically worse, however, with the advance of the Islamic State army, which suddenly headed north, seizing Mosul and the Nineveh plain and pushing Christian and minorities out of their homes with violence and threats.
“I reported to Pope Francis on the precariousness of these people, who have mostly fled without anything,” Cardinal Filoni said.
He explained that he was deeply touched by the plight of the people — suffering individuals, each with their own story. In particular, he was struck by the suffering children, elderly and yazidi minorities.
The cardinal described seeing “women crouched in a corner, without their husbands,” as well as grown men “crying like children because they do not see any future for their people.”
In addition, he was astonished at “seeing benumbed elderly, sitting down not doing anything in the heat.”
“When one is uprooted from his village, where he had his life, his friendships, and is just sitting there, what does he expect? Only death. This is dramatic.”
Cardinal Filoni also stressed the difficult situation of the children who have been uprooted from their homes. He voiced gratitude for those who are sacrificing to make the best of the traumatic circumstances.
“There are volunteers, groups of young people who take care of children, invent games, teach them songs. … They are small, pleasant things,” he said.
Among the refugees, there are also newborn babies, born into uncertainty in a time of trauma.
“A child was born two days before my arrival,” the cardinal recalled. “His mom, with her husband and the other child, where there, doing their best to set up their little corner. They lost everything, they lack everything. Their only treasure is this child, who is born and thank God is there.”