VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis convened his ambassadors from across the Middle East on Thursday for three days of meetings to find ways to better protect Christians targeted by Islamic militants and care for those who have been forced to flee their homes.

As the Vatican ramps up its support for military force to stop the militants’ advance, Francis told the envoys he hoped their brainstorming would come up with initiatives to show the church’s solidarity with persecuted Christians and “respond to the needs of so many people who are suffering in the region,” the Vatican said.

The meeting brought together Vatican envoys from Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Turkey. They were joined by various heads of the Holy See bureaucracy, including the head of the Vatican’s main charity, Cor Unum, and Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who travelled to Kurdistan last month as Francis’ personal envoy, with money for displaced Christians and other religious minorities.

The Islamic State group has seized around a third of Iraq and targeted religious minorities in the onslaught, killing hundreds and forcing hundreds of thousands to leave their homes. The Vatican is particularly worried because the advance has emptied Christian communities that have existed for 2,000 years.

Francis has denounced the persecution and said it is legitimate to stop the advance. Earlier this week, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told the U.N. General Assembly that multilateral intervention using a “proportionate use of force” was both “licit and urgent.”

The Vatican’s explicit approval — and outright encouragement — of using multilateral military force is significant because the Holy See often opposes military intervention on the basis of its overall message of peace. But church teaching allows for “just wars” and Parolin said the international community had the responsibility to protect innocents.

“It is disappointing that up to now, the international community has been characterized by contradictory voices and even by silence,” he said.


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