VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has given $1 million as a personal contribution to help Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq who have been forced from their homes, according to his personal envoy to the country.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, visited Erbil as Pope Francis’ envoy from Aug. 12-20.
Erbil, where more than 70,000 Christians have fled from the Islamic State, is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan and is within 50 miles of territory held by the Islamic State.
Cardinal Filoni met in private with Pope Francis the day after he returned to Rome and spoke to CNA Aug. 22.
Cardinal Filoni said he carried with him one-tenth of the Pope’s contribution and that “75% of the money was delivered to Catholics and the remaining 25% to the Yazidi community.”
The Islamic State is a recently established caliphate that has persecuted all non-Sunnis in its territory, which extends across swaths of Iraq and Syria.
“Pope Francis gave me a humanitarian mission, not a diplomatic mission, and this is what I always emphasized to Iraqi authorities,” Cardinal Filoni said.
The Pope’s decision to send a personal envoy to Iraq, the cardinal said, “meant to me that, if he had been able to go, he would have.”
Cardinal Filoni recounted that Pope Francis entrusted him with letters for Kurdish President Masoud Barzani and Iraqi President Fuad Masum, presenting him “as his personal envoy and expressing his concern for what Christians and minorities in general are suffering, because they have been uprooted from their lands and persecuted.”
The Islamic State has forced more than 1.2 million Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims from their homes in Iraq, under threat of death or heavy fines if they do not convert.
In the face of such violence, Cardinal Filoni said intervention to stop the aggressor is a legitimate option.
“The Church does not back any war. The right to defend one’s self is legitimate. But our Christians in Iraq have no arms. Therefore, it is necessary that someone — in this case, the legitimate authorities of the country — should defend minorities, especially those most in danger.”
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