By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Managing Editor, Impunity Watch

THE VATICAN, VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, made a phone call to several Iraqis forced to flee their homes as a result of the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in their region telling the refugees that they are in his thoughts this Christmas and using the holiday to bring the attention of the Catholic community, with more than one billion members worldwide, to the plight of refugees who have suffered as a result of the ISIS advance as well as Syria’s ongoing civil war. Frances told the refugees now living in a camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil in northern Iraq, that they were like Jesus, were forced to flee because there was no place for them.

Pope Francis addresses the crowd after a mass at the San Giuseppe all’Aurelio parish on December 14, 2014 in Rome, The leader of the Catholic faith ushered in the Christmas season by calling refugees in Iraq who have fled the advance of ISIS in the region. (Photo courtesy of Time Magazine)

For Christians, Christmas is a holiday that calls for peace and celebrates the birth of Jesus in barn manger in the Palestine in the town of Bethlehem in modern day Palestine, chosen because there was no room for his parents at an inn. “You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either” Pope Francis told the Iraqis in the call arranged via satellite phone by the Italian Catholic television station TV2000.”I embrace you all and wish for you a holy Christmas,” he said.

On Monday Pope Francis denounced ISIS as a “terrorist organization of a size that was unimaginable before, committing all types of abuses… [And] striking some among you who have been brutally chased from your lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times.” In recent months the Holy Pontiff has denounced all forms of religious extremism and murder in the name of religion.  During a visit to Turkey last month Pope Francis called for an end to all forms of religious fundamentalism and called on the world to focus on achieving the important goals of the world’s great faiths, fighting hunger and poverty. During a visit to Turkey the pope called for solidarity in opposing the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, “It is essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties,” Francis said.

The pope used the phone call to address the crimes committed by ISIS, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in Iraq and Syria.  “Innocent children, children who have died, exploited children… I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross.” “Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart,” he told Iraq’s refugees.

For more information please see:

BBC News – Pope Francis makes Christmas call to Iraqi refugees – 24 December 2014

Newsweek – Pope Urges Solidarity to Stop Militants in Syria and Iraq – 24 December 2014

New York Magazine – 11 Touching Christmas Photographs of Christian Refugees in Iraq’s Kurdish Capital

Time Magazine – Pope Francis Ushers in Christmas with Phone Call to Iraqi Refugees – 24 December 2014

Author: Kathryn Maureen Ryan