BEIRUT

Middle East

Pope sending cardinal to Iraq to support Christians

Displaced Iraqi Christians settle at St. Joseph Church in Irbil, northern Iraq August 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammad)

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is sending a cardinal to Iraq to help thousands of Christians fleeing the rapid advance of jihadis from the Islamic State, the Vatican said Friday.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, a former papal nuncio to the country, is being sent to Iraqi Kurdistan to show the pope's "spiritual support and the church's solidarity with the people who are suffering," papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

He said Filoni would be departing soon but gave no date.

The Vatican has come in for criticism from Eastern Christians not doing more to help the persecuted minority, who are fleeing into the mountains alongside thousands of members of the minority Yazidi community in the face of a rapid advance north by Sunni extremists.

Francis had appealed Thursday for the international community to mobilize to protect and ensure aid for the fleeing populations, thousands of whom have been stranded on mountain tops with little food or water.

The Vatican's own representative for Christians in the Middle East, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, said humanitarian intervention of a completely different order was needed to stop "the painful and unjust exodus of Christians" from Iraq.

 

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