Pope Francis denounced the cold-blooded murder of innocent people in Iraq on Sunday, many of whom are children, saying that this violence “makes us cry, leaves us without words.”
He was speaking in particular of the ongoing fighting to liberate Mosul, where the so called Islamic State is using entire families as human shields.
Francis’s words came at the end of his weekly Sunday Angelus prayer, where as usual, he meditated on a Gospel passage, before delivering yet another appeal for peace in the Middle East, something he’s done regularly in the three years of his pontificate.
Addressing the estimated 50,000 faithful gathered in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square to participate in the prayer, the pontiff said he was “pained to hear news of the murder in cold blood of numerous sons of this beloved land, among them many children.”
“This cruelty makes us cry, leaving us without words,” he said.
Francis began his appeal saying that he’s close to Iraq “in these dramatic hours,” saying “our souls are shaken by the brutal acts of violence that have been committed for too long against innocent citizens, whether Muslims or Christians.”
He also promised to accompany his words of solidarity with prayer, in the hopes that Iraq can be strong in the hope towards a safe future, “of reconciliation and peace.”
The pope asked the faithful gathered to pray in silence with him.
Iraqi forces and their allies, including the United States, have launched a major offensive this week to retake Mosul. The United Nations says more than 4,000 people have fled the area.
Fighting on the sixth day of the offensive on Saturday was reported to be intense, as the Iraqi military seized more ground. They entered the town of Qaraqosh, about 20 miles south of Mosul, the IS capital.
Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town before the war, is said to be largely empty but IS has laid landmines on the approaches to Mosul. Most of the Christians who fled the town back in 2014 are currently living as refugees in Erbil, Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
An estimated 120,000 Christians, tens of thousands of Yezidis, kaka’is and all other inhabitants of the region, all have been hoping to return to their homes in the Nineveh plain, which includes Qaraqosh and many other cities that have been landmined by the ISIS.
The United Nations has warned ISIS is using civilians as human shields, calculating the terrorist organization had taken 550 families from neighboring towns to Mosul. CNN reported 285 men and children have already been used as human shields in recent days, their bodies dumped in a mass grave.
Mosul is the second largest city of Iraq, after Baghdad, and currently the biggest stronghold of the terrorist organization, which according to the United States State Department, has been perpetrating genocide against minority groups for the last three years. Among those most affected are the Yazidis and Christians, together with Muslims who don’t bend to ISIS.
It was in Mosul where ISIS leader Abu Bakir al-Baghdadi proclaimed a Caliphate in June 2014. Due to its oil fields and vast agricultural land, the city is largely regarded the economic capital of ISIS.