The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has called for the UK government to lead efforts to aid the persecuted communities in the north of Iraq.
His call came as the US made the first air strikes to protect tens of thousands of Christians and other non-Muslim minorities, including Yazidis, from the genocidal assault launched by ISIS, or Islamic State, forces. After the Islamic militants took Iraq’s biggest Christian town of Qaraqosh earlier this week, there have been graphic reports of systematic beheadings, crucifixions and other horrors. Thousands of Christians have taken refuge in Kurdish territory, which is now being attacked by Islamic State. Some 50,000 Yazidis have taken refuge on Mount Sinjar, where children are dying.
Cardinal Nichols said:
I have followed with deep sadness the unfolding disaster in Mosul, in Sinjar and Qaraqosh, and in other towns and villages across northern Iraq. This is a persecution of immense proportions in which Christian, Yezidi and other communities have been targeted by ISIS and forced to flee their ancestral homes in the Nineveh Plains in search of temporary safety. All they are doing is trying to escape certain death.
Today, I add my voice to those of the Church leaders in Iraq as well as all the Bishops of Oriental Churches who met in Beirut yesterday alongside the Apostolic Nuncio. Along with Christian and Muslim leaders in Wales and many others we appeal for help and protection for these persecuted communities facing a threat to their very existence in their biblical homelands. It is imperative that the international community ensure the physical protection of all communities in Iraq, their human rights including the right to religious freedom. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to lead the efforts in the face of such a human calamity in order to help restore these shattered communities, provide them with urgent humanitarian aid and work with others to ensure their long term security in the land of their birth.
I encourage our own Catholic community to continue to give generously to our agencies working to support the people of Iraq. Above all I invite all people of faith to turn to God in prayer this weekend and seek for our world the change of heart and the gift of grace that alone can bring us peace.