Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — The one thing Iraqi church leaders and aid workers, foreign charities and governments cannot do for the displaced and terrorized people of northeastern Iraq is answer their question, “What will become of us?” said Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the pope’s envoy to the region.
“Alongside the material dimension, obviously there is the psychological dimension” of being forced from their homes, “uprooted from their normal lives, their culture and environment,” Cardinal Filoni told Vatican Radio Aug. 14 during a telephone interview from Irbil, Iraq.
The cardinal, a former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was visiting the region at the request of Pope Francis, who wanted to demonstrate his concern for tens of thousands of people — mainly Christians, Yezidis and other minorities — driven from their homes by the Islamic State terrorist group.
The Islamic State controls large areas of Syria and Iraq. Its militants captured Mosul in late July and Qaraqosh in early August, killing hundreds of people and forcing thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic minorities from their homes.
The U.S. military began airstrikes against the Islamic State Aug. 8 as well as airdrops of food and water for Iraqi minorities who had been forced to flee. Cardinal Filoni estimated 160,000 people have been displaced; many of those who have found safety are in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan province.
Cardinal Filoni told Vatican Radio he began his day Aug. 14 visiting the bishop’s house where “in the garden, in the church and in 23 other places — mostly parochial schools or the parish churches — thousands of people have found refuge.”
“Fortunately, it is not cold. In fact, it’s very warm, so people sleep outside at night. Others, especially those with children, find a place in one of the big halls,” he said.
Others are being hosted by families and a few have the resources to rent an apartment, he said.
Thanks to the local church, local families, international aid agencies and several foreign governments, the welcome for the displaced seems well organized, he said. “There is much generosity and much hard work.”
The cardinal said he spoke that morning with Masoud Barzani, the region’s president, who expressed his government’s willingness to welcome the displaced and who was deeply appreciative of Pope Francis’ public appeals to stop the killing and persecution.
“Unfortunately, it must be said that the situation, including from a military point of view, is still fluid,” he said. Local officials complain of difficulty getting the help they need to defend their territory and their people from the advance of the Islamic State militants.