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Pope Francis to world leaders: ‘stop these crimes’ in Iraq

Iraqi refugees who have fled from the Islamic State

Pope Francis has condemned the actions of Islamic State militants in Iraq, saying that persecuting Christians and other minorities “seriously offends God and seriously offends humanity”.

“One cannot generate hatred in God’s name,” he said on Sunday. “One cannot make war in God’s name!”

After reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis asked tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square to join him for a moment of silent prayer for peace in Iraq and for the tens of thousands of people forced from their homes in northeastern Iraq as fighters from the Islamic State tried to increase the territory under their control.

“The news from Iraq leaves us incredulous and appalled,” Pope Francis said. “Thousands of people, including many Christians, have been chased from their homes in a brutal way; children die of thirst and hunger during the flight; women are kidnapped; people are massacred; violence of every kind; destruction everywhere.”

The Pope also used Twitter to appeal for peace and for the protection of innocent civilians. Instead of one daily general message about faith on his @Pontifex account, Pope Francis sent three tweets each day from Friday to Sunday urging people to join him in prayer.

At the Angelus he also called on the international community and Iraq’s beleaguered government to “stop these crimes” and reestablish law and order.

Pope Francis thanked “those who, with courage, are bringing aid to these brothers and sisters of ours” and told people he was sending Cardinal Fernando Filoni as his personal envoy to Iraq.

Cardinal Filoni, a former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, met the Pope privately on Sunday evening to receive instructions for the mission and a financial contribution “for the urgent needs” of the victims, according to Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

The cardinal told CTV, the Vatican television centre, that he had the impression Pope Francis “would like to go himself to be with these poor people. He entrusted this mission to me precisely so that I would make his affection, his profound love”, clear to the people.

The Vatican said the cardinal was expected to leave Rome on Sunday and visit Baghdad as well as Iraqi Kurdistan, where many of those displaced by the Islamic State are seeking shelter.

Along with perhaps hundreds of thousands of Christians and tens of thousands of members of the Yezidi religious minority, the cardinal said, there are probably “a million displaced people looking for a safe place” to live free from the threat of the forces of the Islamic State, which the US government defines as a terrorist organisation.

The US military began airstrikes against the Islamic state as well as airdrops of food and water for Iraqis forced to flee their homes.

Vatican Radio asked Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, about the US airstrikes.

“This is something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped,” the archbishop said. “But, we should wonder why we have arrived at this point: was it not a lack of intelligence? Were we not able to understand what was going on? And then: who gave these [Islamic State fighters] such sophisticated weapons?”