ROME — Pope Francis’ top diplomat says the international community must pay more attention to persecuted Christians — not for religious reasons, but because they’re innocent victims of armed aggression.

“People are to be protected first and foremost [regardless of their faith],” Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said.

The comment suggests that as it mounts a defense of persecuted Christians around the world, the Vatican does not want to be seen as acting out of self-interest or parochial concern, but rather broader principles of human rights.

On other matters, Parolin warned against rapid progress on relations with China, saying, “there’s a willingness to talk, a dialogue that has its rhythms, its times, and which we hope will lead to some results.”

Parolin also said he’d be open to see Pope Francis lead a sort of interreligious United Nations, as former Israeli President Shimon Peres suggested in 2014. Although he hasn’t received a concrete directive on the matter, Parolin said that “it’s important that religions intervene to favor peace in a visible and active way.”

As for the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq, Parolin said he regrets they no longer receive the attention they deserve.

“Unfortunately, one gets used to these situations,” Parolin said; as a result, indifference grows despite how devastating some international conflicts are. “And the greatest danger is this: Wars will be forgotten and these situations of conflict will become gangrenous and cause great suffering,” he said.

The cardinal’s comments came after an hour-long reflection called “Peace, a gift from God, human responsibility and Christian commitment” that he gave at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University Wednesday.

Parolin will visit Minsk, in Belarus, March 12-15 to address the conflict taking place in eastern Ukraine, which, he said, the Vatican is following closely while supporting all efforts to find a negotiated and peaceful way out of the crisis.

This visit to Belarus is especially significant at this moment in time, Parolin said. Although the Vatican won’t be mediating in the Ukrainian situation, he will be keeping an eye on the situation precisely because of the role the government in Minsk is playing in the search for peace.

“The reason for my trip is religious, to bless the cornerstone of the Apostolic Nunciature,” Parolin said in French. “But to go to a country like Belarus is a way of supporting the mediating effort this country has made and continues to make in the Ukrainian crisis.”

The Apostolic Nunciature is the equivalent of an embassy. During his three-day trip, Parolin will meet with government officials, something customary in these visits.

Despite the loss of more than 5,000 lives and 7 percent of Ukraine’s territory when Russia annexed Crimea, the conflict, currently at an impasse after a truce signed in Minsk, is still not being called a “war”, either at home or abroad.

On Feb. 4 Pope Francis called the conflict “fratricidal violence,” which didn’t play well with Ukrainians who believe they’re being invaded by Russia.

While in Rome later in February, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic church, said the comments were “particularly painful for all the people in Ukraine,” and that the pope’s words were reminiscent of “Soviet propaganda.”