A demonstrator marches with crutches outside the U.S. consulate in Irbil, Iraq, Aug. 11. The pope's envoy to the region, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, said people still do not know what will become of terrorized Christians. CNS photo/ Sahar Mansour

Iraqi minorities need more than material aid, cardinal says

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • August 14, 2014

VATICAN CITY - The one thing Iraqi Church leaders and aid workers, foreign charities and governments cannot do for the displaced and terrorized people of northeastern Iraq is answer their question, "What will become of us?" said Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Pope's envoy to the region.

"Alongside the material dimension, obviously there is the psychological dimension" of being forced from their homes, "uprooted from their normal lives, their culture and environment," Filoni told Vatican Radio Aug. 14 during a telephone interview from Irbil, Iraq.

The cardinal, a former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was visiting the region at the request of Pope Francis, who wanted to demonstrate his concern for tens of thousands of people — mainly Christians, Yezidis and other minorities — driven from their homes by the Islamic State terrorist group.

The Islamic State controls large areas of Syria and Iraq. Its militants captured Mosul in late July and Qaraqosh in early August, killing hundreds of people and forcing thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic minorities from their homes.

The U.S. military began airstrikes against the Islamic State Aug. 8 as well as airdrops of food and water for Iraqi minorities who had been forced to flee. Filoni estimated 160,000 people have been displaced; many of those who have found safety are in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan province.

Filoni told Vatican Radio he began his day Aug. 14 visiting the bishop's house where "in the garden, in the church and in 23 other places — mostly parochial schools or the parish churches — thousands of people have found refuge."

"Fortunately, it is not cold. In fact, it's very warm, so people sleep outside at night. Others, especially those with children, find a place in one of the big halls," he said.

Others are being hosted by families and a few have the resources to rent an apartment, he said.

Thanks to the local Church, local families, international aid agencies and several foreign governments, the welcome for the displaced seems well organized, he said. "There is much generosity and much hard work."

The cardinal said he spoke that morning with Masoud Barzani, the region's president, who expressed his government's willingness to welcome the displaced and who was deeply appreciative of Pope Francis' public appeals to stop the killing and persecution.

"Unfortunately, it must be said that the situation, including from a military point of view, is still fluid," he said. 

Local officials complain of difficulty getting the help they need to defend their territory and their people from the advance of the Islamic State militants.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.