Pope nominates Cardinal Filoni as his personal envoy to Iraq

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Pope Francis has decided to send Cardinal Fernando Filoni to Iraq – where the self-proclaimed Caliphate is driving Christians out of their cities in the Nineveh Plain “in the next few days”. Apostolic Nuncios in the Middle East are expected to meet in Rome, probably in September.

“In light of the grave situation in Iraq, the Holy Father has nominated Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide), as his personal envoy to express his spiritual closeness to the people who suffer and to bring them the solidarity of the Church,” a statement issued by the Holy See reads.

“I ask all men and women of goodwill to join me in praying for Iraqi Christians and all vulnerable populations,” the Pope wrote on Twitter.

The Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said it was still too “early” to give any details regarding Cardinal Filoni’s mission which will embark on “in the next few days” (the cardinal will not therefore travel to South Korea with the Pope as originally planned), because he is still “planning” his trip. Depending on the complexity of the situation, it is expected that Cardinal Filoni “was to visit Kurdistan,” Fr. Lombardi told journalists.

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples was formerly Nuncio to Iraq and stayed there even when US bombs started falling. Lombardi underlined that Cardinal Filoni “is very qualified for this both because of his authoritativeness and because he was Nuncio to Jordan and Iraq from 2001 to 2006 and as many will recall, he was the only diplomat who stayed put in Baghdad,” the Vatican spokesman said, stressing the “courage” of this choice.

Apart from showing the Church’s support to the population, the Prefect is also expected to bring a “financial contribution from the Holy Father.” The cardinal “will communicate the Pope’s interest and concern” regarding the situation in Iraq “to the authorities.”

Apostolic Nuncios “in the region” have been “asked to inform political and civil authorities and local Churches of the appeal the Pope sent out for Iraq” yesterday, Fr. Lombardi said. A meeting of Apostolic Nuncios in Rome is also “being planned”, to be held “further on down the line,” “possibly in September,” Fr. Lombardi said. The Pope apparently held a meeting with his closest collaborators yesterday, to come up with a diplomatic strategy on the emergency in Iraq.

The decision to send him to Iraq “shows the Pope’s concern for the suffering Christians are experiencing: the pain of having left their homes, of being uprooted, humiliated, leaving their homes as they were and having to seek refuge elsewhere,” Cardinal Filoni told Vatican Radio. “At the moment we are trying to organise the trip as it is not easy to get there…” the Italian cardinal said. “But there is no need to be afraid.” “Above all, I will try to bring solidarity and closeness through prayer and in practice,” Filoni said. “I am sure that the Holy Father will tell me specifically what he wants me to communicate to these people, who are so dear to him and to the whole Church.”

The Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael I Sako, spoke about the risk of a Christian “genocide”. “Patriarch Sako is there and is more in the know about many aspects which many unfortunately escape us,” Filoni said. “Sadly this is not the first time Christians in this area have been forced to migrate and have experienced unspeakable suffering.” So “it is a population that still carries within it a great deal of suffering and I understand the Patriarch’s words.”

Yesterday, after militants of the self-proclaimed Caliphate had entered Nineveh Plain the previous evening “chasing out thousands of Christians living in the surrounding villages,” Cardinal Filoni issued a statement to Fides, Propaganda Fide’s news agency, saying: “Christians had to abandon everything, even their shoes, heading towards the Kurdistan Region barefoot. The effects of this exodus risk becoming more far-reaching because Erbil - the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan – is not prepared to take them in as they have nowhere to put a thousand people.”

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By Iacopo Scaramuzzi