Pope Francis sends solidarity message to Iraq's persecuted Christians

(Photo: REUTERS / Ahmed Jadallah)A displaced Iraqi Christian girl who fled from Islamic State militants in Mosul, eats an ice-cream at a mall still under construction, which is now used as a refugee camp in Erbil September 6, 2014.

Pope Francis has commiserated with Christians "driven from the Middle East" by militants calling themselves the Islamic State as the jihadists continue to wrest control over areas in the country.

In a video message aired during the visit of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin in Arbil, Iraq, the Pope lamented the continuing persecution of Christians from their native land.

"It would seem that they [the extremists] do not want there to be any Christians, but you bear witness to Christ," Francis said in the address, the transcript of which was made available by Asianews.it.

"I think of the wounds, of the pain of women with their children, the elderly and the displaced, the wounds of those who are victims of every type of violence," the Pope said.

The Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil has served as a refuge for minority groups such as Christians and Yazidis, who arrived in droves after jihadists seized Mosul, the country's second largest city, in June.

The IS forced Christians away from Mosul, threatening to kill them unless they converted to Islam. Many Christians were forced to leave their belongings behind.

Francis pointed out that the systematic eradication of Christians in the area appeared to be a way by which the IS would strengthen its grip in the territory they are taking control.

"Due to an extremist and fundamentalist group, entire communities, especially, but not only, Christians and Yazidi, have suffered and continue to suffer, inhuman violence because of their religious and ethnic identity," Pope Francis.

"Christians and Yazidi have been forced out of their homes; they have had to abandon everything to save their lives, but they have not denied their faith," the pontiff went on.

He lamented that extremists are trying to wipe out all proof of Christian existence in the area, such as destroying structures that closely identify with faiths other than Islam.

"Even holy buildings, monuments, religious symbols and cultural heritage have been affected by the violence, almost as if to cancel every trace, every memory of the other," said the Pope.

Cardinal Barbarin, the Catholic archbishop of Lyon, visited Arbil for the second time this year as his diocese was twinned with Mosul.

He celebrated Mass and led a procession in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

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