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

Western leaders press governments to help Iraqi minorities

  • August 14, 2014

WASHINGTON - Western leaders pressed their governments to increase humanitarian efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians and other minorities in northern Iraq.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged President Barack Obama to heed the call of Pope Francis to do everything possible "to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities" in Iraq.

English and Canadian cardinals made similar appeals to their governments as Iraqi Christians increasingly expressed the sense that they have been deserted by the international community.

"Violence may begin against minorities, but it does not end there," Kurtz wrote Aug. 14. "The rights of all Iraqis are at risk from the current situation."

He also noted that the U.S. bishops have designated Aug. 17 as a day of prayer for peace in Iraq and the Middle East.

In London, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, urged Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to work to create a "political environment" in which Islamic State terrorists can be defeated.

In an Aug. 12 letter, the cardinal said that the terrorists had caused a "catastrophe not only for those tens of thousands of people directly affected but also for what hopes remain for Iraq as a plural society in which indigenous minorities will have any future."

He asked Hammond to increase the relief operation in which the Royal Air Force is already engaged and to focus on "creating a more stable society based on respect for fundamental human rights, especially freedom of religion, and the rule of law."

Days earlier, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto asked Canadians to urge their government "to use its full diplomatic influence" to support the calls of church leaders in Iraq for protection and humanitarian assistance.

In a statement Aug. 8, Collins also said that Canada should offer asylum to any Iraqi Christian refugees who wished to leave their country.

"As the largest Canadian private sponsor of refugees from the region, we stand ready to welcome more, with parishes mobilized to facilitate sponsorship and settlement at a moment's notice," he said. "Let us accelerate the process at once."

At an Aug. 11 demonstration outside the U.S. Consulate in Irbil, Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul spoke of the sense of abandonment Christians feel. Refugees held banners written in English, Arabic and Aramaic with such slogans as, "Either international protection or mass immigration."

Thousands of them had marched from St Joseph's Chaldean Catholic Church in Ankawa to the consulate, praying the rosary and singing hymns along the way.

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