Pope urges Ban Ki-moon to take action to end humanitarian tragedy in Iraq

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“I place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq.” Just before Francis left for Korea and after sending Cardinal Fernando Filoni to Iraq in light of the escalating violence, Pope Francis wrote to the UN’s South Korean General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, “with a heavy and anguished heart”, to ask the international community “through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.” Presidents of the European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) also wrote to the United Nations Security Council calling for “urgent” intervention.

“It is with a heavy and anguished heart that I have been following the dramatic events of these past few days in Northern Iraq where Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony,” the Pope wrote to Ban Ki-moon in a letter signed August 9th and published today by the Vatican. “Moved by their plight, I have asked His Eminence Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who served as the Representative of my predecessors, Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to the people in Iraq, to manifest my spiritual closeness and to express my concern, and that of the entire Catholic Church, for the intolerable suffering of those who only wish to live in peace, harmony and freedom in the land of their forefathers. In the same spirit, I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq. In renewing my urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, I encourage all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts,” Francis stressed, “in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.”

“The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes,” the Pope wrote. “The tragic experiences of the Twentieth Century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities. Confident that my appeal, which I unite with those of the Oriental Patriarchs and other religious leaders, will meet with a positive reply, I take this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.”

Meanwhile, the presidents of Europe’s Bishops’ Conferences signed another letter “request[ing] that the Security Council of the United Nations take those decisions that would stop these acts of atrocity as thousands of persons are dying or killed or forced to abandon their homes because of their religious affiliation.” The letter was signed by the presidents of all Episcopal Conferences, starting with the Hungarian Péter Erdő (President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, CCEE), the Italian cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (Vice-President of CCEE) and the German cardinal Reinhard Marx (President of the Bishops' Conference of the Germany President of the COMECE). It calls on the UN Security Council to “act with the necessary urgency.” Cor Unum, the dicastery in charge of the Holy See’s charitable works, issued its own statement saying that “since June, programs have been in place to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees. These programs that have been initiated by the local Church, especially through Caritas Iraq, have reached at least 4,000 households.” “In order to prepare a comprehensive plan of assistance on the part of the Catholic Church in the near future, in close cooperation with the Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans and with the local Caritas, studies are in progress and on-site visits are taking place.”

In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, noted that “in the various articles making up the [United Nations] Charter, it is foreseen “that there might be occasions in the life and in the relations between states when dialogue, negotiations, fail and large numbers of people find themselves at risk: at risk of genocide, at risk of having their fundamental, their basic human rights violated. In this case, when every other means has been attempted, article 42 of the Charter of the United Nations becomes possible justification for not only imposing sanctions of economic nature on the state or the group or the region that violates the basic human rights of people, but also to use force. All the force that is necessary to stop this evil and this tragedy.” “A few years ago,” he concluded, “I remember we were faced with a similar situation as we are faced now in northern Iraq when Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda were killing each other. There were meetings, political declarations, but very little action. And then, every year when we commemorate the almost one million people killed in that genocide, we make a kind of ‘mea culpa’ saying we have not done anything effective to prevent the killing of those innocent people. God forbid that this may also be the same situation today in northern Iraq.”

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By Iacopo Scaramuzzi