In the wake of the dramatic situation facing the Christian people of Iraq following the takeover of a large portion of Northern Iraq by the group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS), in which Christians have been given the choice to pay an oppressive tax, leave their communities, or be executed, Pope Francis has appointed a special personal envoy to Iraq to address the needs of Christians.
“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, as his personal envoy to express his spiritual closeness to the people who suffer and to bring them the solidarity of the Church,” the Holy see released in a statement dated today. The Vatican has released no further information regarding the appointment of Cardinal Filoni to this new post, nor has the Apostolic Palace said officially when Filoni will depart for the Middle East.
It is reported that ISIS militants captured the town of Qaraquash on Wednesday evening, a place sometimes called the "Christian capital of Iraq. The BBC and other news agencies have filed reports saying that since taking control of Qaraquash, ISIS members have taken down crosses and burned many valuable Christian religious manuscripts. In a further statement today, Father Frederico Lombardi, SJ, director of the Holy See Press Office, said that the Pope is increasingly concerned. "The Holy Father is following with deep concern the dramatic news reports coming from northern Iraq, which involve defenseless populations. Christian communities are particularly affected: a people fleeing from their villages because of the violence that rages in these days, wreaking havoc on the entire region," Lombardi said. "The Holy Father renews his spiritual closeness to all those who are suffering through this painful trial, and makes the impassioned appeals of the local bishops his own, asking together with them in behalf of their sorely tried communities, that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace."