VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI called on government and religious leaders to help end acts of “cruel violence” and intolerance many minority Christians are facing in some parts of the world, especially in Iraq and India.
He asked authorities do everything possible to restore the rule of law and peaceful coexistence so that “honest and legal citizens may know they can count on adequate protection from the state.”
The pope made his appeal from his apartment window to pilgrims gathered below in St. Peter’s Square before praying the Angelus Oct. 26.
He said he wanted to draw the world’s attention to “the tragedy that is engulfing some countries in the East where Christians are victims of intolerance and cruel violence, killed, threatened and forced to abandon their homes and wander in search of refuge.”
Iraq and India were two nations of deep concern, he said, adding that he wanted to uphold an appeal launched Oct. 24 by Catholic leaders from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and India who were participating in the world Synod of Bishops on the Bible.
Pope Benedict said he was sure that, “after centuries of living in respectful coexistence, the ancient and noble peoples” of Iraq and India have learned to “appreciate the contribution the small, but hard-working and skilled, Christian minorities make to the development of their shared nation.”
Christians “do not demand privileges but desire only to be able to continue living in their country together with their fellow citizens as they have always done,” he said.
Since the world’s governments and religious leaders are role models and guide their peoples, the pope said, they should make “significant and explicit gestures of friendship and consideration toward Christian or other religions minorities” and help defend minorities’ rights.
In India, tens of thousands of Christians have fled anti-Christian violence that erupted in Orissa state in late August. Several church leaders have denounced the local government’s inaction in stopping or prosecuting the cases of violence and destruction of church property.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that in northern Iraq more than 13,000 Christians have fled Mosul recently because of intensified violence and intimidation there. That figure represents more than half the city’s total Christian population – many of whom have fled to other towns farther north or across the border to Syria, the UNHCR said Oct. 24.
Chaldean Bishop Rabban al Qas of Arbil told the Rome-based missionary agency AsiaNews that the wave of killings and threats against Christians in Mosul has intimidated even moderate Muslims, who now no longer try to defend their neighbors from intolerance.
“Once they used to open their homes to the Christians; now, out of fear of fanaticism and terrorism, they do not even dare show that they are friends or acquaintances of Christians,” the bishop said in an Oct. 27 message to the news agency.
Bishop Qas said the Iraqi forces and government have not done enough to try to prevent or stop the recent wave of killings and threats against Christians.
“What is taking place in these days is their responsibility, without forgetting the responsibilities of the American forces and representatives of the United Nations. What is taking place in Mosul is happening right in front of their eyes: The terrorists are killing, placing bombs in homes and churches, driving out the Christians without the slightest effort by the authorities of Mosul to defend those whose only fault is that they are disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.
The bishop said 12 Chaldean bishops were to meet in Arbil Oct. 28 with the Vatican’s nuncio in Iraq, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, to evaluate the situation of Iraq’s minority Christians.