Escalating violence in northern and central Iraq has caused devastation and mass displacement of 1.2 million people since January 2014. Fear looms as the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS) has taken control of large swaths of the Ninewa, Salah Al-Din and Diyala provinces. ISIS is targeting minorities such as Christians and the Shia Muslims. Mosque loudspeakers throughout Mosul warn Christians to leave within 12 hours or be killed, coercing them to convert to Islam or pay the Jizya (tax on non-Muslims).
Religious minorities, including Christians, Shia Muslims and Turkmen, have been singled out for attack. On July 18, ISIS issued threats directly to Christians in Mosul, resulting in the sudden flight of the remaining 500 Christian families to safer areas of Ninewa.
The journey is not without danger: At ISIS checkpoints, gunmen are seizing children, threatening to kill them if families do not hand over their possessions. Many are taking refuge in empty houses, schools, clinics, church compounds and abandoned buildings, with living conditions deteriorating.
Pope Francis launched an appeal for unity, calling for "security, peace and a future of reconciliation and justice, where all Iraqis, whatever their religion, can build their nation together, creating a model of coexistence." His Grace has called for solidarity in prayer to "raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace."
Through organisations such as Caritas Iraq, Caritas Jerusalem, and Caritas Lebanon, the Church has people on the ground helping out with refugees and other victims of the conflicts.