VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has expressed concern for Christians forced to flee Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, where Christians have resided for centuries.
The pontiff in his traditional Angelus blessing on Sunday offered prayers for Iraqi Christians who “are persecuted, chased away, forced to leave their houses without out the possibility of taking anything” with them.
Christians departed Mosul this week for the largely autonomous Kurdish region after they were issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death. It’s the latest exodus of Christians from the city where communities date from the first centuries of Christianity. Francis also called for dialogue to resolve armed conflicts around the world, especially in the Middle East and Ukraine, emphasizing “violence is not overcome with violence. Violence is overcome with peace.”
The ancient Christian community of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul had all but fled by Sunday, ending a presence stretching back nearly two millennia after radical Islamists set them a midday deadline to submit to Islamic rule or leave.
The ultimatum by the Islamic State drove out the few hundred Christians who had stayed on when the group’s hardline Sunni Muslim fighters overran Mosul a month ago, threatening Christians and the diverse city’s other religious communities.
This week the Islamic State gave any remaining Christians a final choice to make by Saturday noon: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or face the sword.