ROME — Pope Francis on Sunday appealed for the international community to work for peace in Syria, noting that Christian families are in the areas currently under attack by Turkish forces.
The pontiff was speaking during his Sunday Angelus, after canonizing Cardinal John Henry Newman and four other new saints for the Church.
“Dramatic news comes again about the fate of the populations in the northeast of the country, forced to abandon their homes because of military actions: Among these populations there are also many Christian families,” Francis said after the canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
Calling Syria a “beloved and martyred” nation, the pope called on “all the actors involved and to the international community” to commit themselves “sincerely to the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions” to the crisis.
Turkey launched its incursion into Syria on Wednesday days after President Donald Trump ordered that a small contingent of U.S. troops pull back from the border area.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the incursion is to enable the creation of a buffer zone for the return of Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.
Explaining his decision, Trump on Wednesday said that the Kurds are “fighting for their land,” but added “they didn’t help us in the Second World War. They didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example.”
The Kurdish militias were, however, a key ally for U.S. troops in the battle against the Islamic State group.
The Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. However, they are stateless and often marginalized, living across Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Armenia. In northern Iraq, they have an autonomous region known as Iraqi Kurdistan. During the worst of the Islamic State fighting, most Christians fled from the Nineveh Plains to Erbil, the region’s capital city.
On Saturday, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Basha Warda of Erbil released a statement urging all parties to remember their obligations to protect innocent civilians.
“Our special concern is for the innocent refugees and displaced of all faiths,” he said. “In this we must be prepared in Erbil and Northern Iraq for another wave of refugees. We raise this issue now so that the international community can be ready to help if and when the time comes to shelter these innocents.”
Expecting the “imminent” arrival of new Christian Syrian refugees, Warda said that the local Church prays that Iraq’s central governments and the Kurdistan regional government won’t turn them away.
The archbishop also urged the international community to understand that Iraq’s minorities, particularly Christians and Yazidis, won’t be able to withstand another “serious conflict” in the country.
Warda said the re-establishment of substantive, formal and legitimate government control and security is paramount, replacing the different armed militia units that have helped Christians survive thus far.
“Continuing tension that results in serious conflict in these areas would mark the end of all efforts to return and instead mark the beginning of an exodus of minorities that no one could control,” the archbishop said.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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