Pope Francis has sent a message of support to Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East.
Muslim extremists “do not want there to be any Christians, but you bear witness to Christ,” the Pope said. “I think of the wounds, of the pain of women with their children, the elderly and the displaced, the wounds of those who are victims of every type of violence.”
Speaking via video message to the Christians of the city of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, on Saturday, Pope Francis said: “Christians and Yazidis have been forced out of their homes, they have had to abandon everything to save their lives, but they have not denied their faith.”
To those Christians driven out of Iraq by ISIS, Pope Francis said: “I hope that you will return, that you will be able to return.”
Archbishop Samir Nassar, the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, has said that 21 people, including five children, have died from the winter cold in his diocese. In a letter entitled “Christmas solitude” he praised persecuted Christians as “heroes of the faith”.
Meanwhile, the Knights of Columbus announced its Christian Refugee Relief Fund has donated $2.2 million to help displaced Iraqi and Syrian Christians and other religious minorities who continue to face violent persecution “and the very real prospect of extinction.”
“This is a concrete response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Iraq and to the urgent appeals from the region as well as Pope Francis’s request for material assistance for those affected by this persecution,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement.
The funds will help provide permanent housing for the increasing number of displaced families in Iraq, according to a news release.
Specifically, it said, the Knights’ donation of $2 million will pay for the construction of new homes on property owned by the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Irbil in the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq.
The Knights’ Supreme Council, which has its headquarters in New Haven in the US, began the fund in August with $1 million and has since raised an additional $1.7 million in donations from individual Knights, local Knights councils and others, for a total of $2.7 million.
Houses will be built for Iraqi Christians who were driven from their homes in Mosul and the surrounding area and who have been living in emergency shelters and random locations far from home.
The Knights’ Christian Refugee Relief Fund also has made a separate donation of $200,000 in general aid to the Melkite Catholic Archdiocese of Aleppo, Syria.
The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organisation with more than 1.8 million members worldwide.