Pope expresses shock over cruelty waged against innocent Iraqis

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As a military operation in northern
Iraq fights to wrest control of areas held by retaliating Islamic State forces,
Pope Francis criticized the “cruelty” and heinous violence waged
against innocent civilians.

He invited people to pray with him, asking that
“Iraq, while gravely stricken, might be both strong and firm in the hope
of moving toward a future of security, reconciliation and peace.”

Speaking to visitors in St. Peter’s Square Oct.
23 for the Angelus prayer, the pope said, “In these dramatic hours, I am
close to the entire population of Iraq, especially that of the city of

“Our hearts are shocked by the heinous acts of
violence that for too long have been perpetrated against innocent citizens,
whether they be Muslims, whether they be Christians, or people belonging to
other ethnic groups and religions.”

He said he was “saddened to hear news of the
killing, in cold blood, of many sons and daughters of that beloved land,
including many children; this cruelty makes us weep, leaving us without

The pope’s remarks came as Iraqi government troops and
Kurdish fighters backed by a U.S.-led coalition were seeking to retake control
of Mosul, the nation’s second-largest city. As the so-called Islamic State lost
control of a number of villages, it has stepped up attacks in other parts of
the country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
verified reports that IS militants were forcing residents of surrounding
villages into Mosul — presumably to be used as human shields.

As humanitarian groups worked to aid those already
displaced by the offensive, many were preparing for what’s feared to become a
mass exodus because more than 1 million people were thought to be inside Mosul.

Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Iraq said they were
prepared to respond quickly to the expected crisis and have already been
assisting thousands of people who fled since the new offensive began Oct. 17.

“We’ve been getting ready for Mosul for months by
training additional staff and volunteers,” CRS Iraq country representative
Hani El-Mahdi said in a CRS press release Oct. 21.

According to the United Nations, approximately 3,900
people have fled Mosul since the offensive was launched. Tens of thousands more
were expected to join the some 3.3 million Iraqis who have been internally
displaced since IS forces started controlling parts of Iraq in 2014.

CRS and Caritas said they were ready to provide shelter,
water, sanitation and cash assistance, while offering priority care and
protection to women, children, the elderly and the disabled.

El-Mahdi said the coming winter months will pose an
additional challenge as well as the fear that aid may not reach those trapped
within militant-controlled areas.

It’s estimated that more than 10 million people are in
urgent need of humanitarian aid throughout the country, the CRS press statement

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