Vatican urges Philippines to help Christians in Iraq

MANILA, Philippines – The Vatican's ambassador to the Philippines has requested the Philippine government, through the Southeast Asian country's Catholic bishops, to exert all efforts “on the international plain” to help thousands of Christians persecuted in Iraq.

The apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, made this request in a letter dated Monday, August 11, that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) sent to reporters on Tuesday, August 12.

In the letter publicized by CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Pinto noted the declaration by the Holy See Press Office, on behalf of Pope Francis, on “the dramatic and perilous situation of defenseless peoples, in particular, Christian communities, in northern Iraq.”

Pinto wrote, “Enclosing a copy of the English translation of that Declaration, I am requesting Your Excellency to take every action to bring this matter to the attention of the faithful in the Philippines, asking their prayers and solidarity for the suffering people of Iraq.”

“In addition, while this Nunciature will communicate the contents of the Declaration to the Government of the Philippines through official channels, I know Your Excellency will take steps to interest the civil authorities of this country in the plight of persecuted Christians, so that everything possible may be done on the international plain to help them,” he said.

In the Holy See declaration attached by Pinto, the Vatican said Francis is following reports on Iraq “with deep concern.”

“His Holiness urgently calls on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance – especially the most urgently needed aid – to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes, whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others,” the Vatican added.

100,000 Christians forced to flee

FEAR OF PERSECUTION. An Iraqi Christian woman forced to flee her home shelters in the St Joseph Church in Erbil, northern Iraq, on August 9, 2014. Photo by Mohammed Jalil/EPA

FEAR OF PERSECUTION. An Iraqi Christian woman forced to flee her home shelters in the St Joseph Church in Erbil, northern Iraq, on August 9, 2014.

Photo by Mohammed Jalil/EPA

When asked what moves the CBCP will propose to the Philippine government, Villegas told Rappler he has “no information about the actions to be taken.” He explained that the Holy See “will course their request through the diplomatic channels,” such as the Philippine Embassy to the Holy See and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

On whether giving asylum to Christians in Iraq is a feasible option for the Philippines, among other things, DFA spokesman Charles Jose said the matter “is to be discussed with our policy office.”

France, for one, has offered asylum to persecuted Christians in Iraq, the BBC reported. The Philippines is not new to asylum seekers as the administration of the late president Manuel Quezon "sheltered Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II in Europe," the Palace recalled Thursday, August 7.

The Vatican's call comes as religious persecution worsens in Iraq.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako told Agence France-Presse in an interview on Thursday, August 7, that jihadists who took over large areas of of the north have forced 100,000 Christians to flee and occupied churches, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts.

The Islamic State group, which swept across much of Iraq's Sunni heartland two months ago, has attacked several towns and villages including Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian town with a population of around 50,000.

The CBCP has called for a day of prayer for peace in Iraq on Monday, August 18, as Francis is expected to pray for persecuted Christians on the same day. (READ: Pope to kiss persecuted Christians' feet – Tagle– with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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