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Pope Francis Makes Christmas Call to Iraqi Refugees Displaced by ISIS, Compares Them to Jesus

( [email protected] ) Dec 26, 2014 02:21 PM EST

Urbi et Orbi Address
Pope Francis giving his traditional Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing from the balcony of St Peter's basilica. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis told Iraqi refugees - forced to flee their homes by the militant group Islamic State - to "persevere" and compared their plight to suffering of Jesus.

The Pope's words of encouragement were made in a telephone call to refugees at camp in Ankawa just before he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass Wednesday at St. Peter's Basilica.

 

"Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart," he told them, according to BBC News, adding that he was thinking particularly of children and the elderly.

 

"Innocent children, children who have died, exploited children... I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross."

The Pope compared the refugees to Jesus, saying they were forced to flee because there was no room for them, "like Jesus on Christmas night."

"And that," he said, "Makes me pray for you more. I embrace you all and wish for you a holy Christmas."

The Islamic State terrorist group has forced tens of thousands of religious minorities to flee after overtaking large portions of Iraq and Syria.  The refugees in Ankawa, many of them Christians, come from the Mosul and the Nineveh plains and have been at the camp since August.

On Thursday, in his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing, the Pope condemned the "brutal persecution" experienced by believers at the hands of the Muslim insurgents and said the joy of Christmas was marred by the suffering of children.

"I ask him, the Savior of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution," he said.

He also mourned the suffering of "children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence."

"I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born," he said.

Speaking of the plight of refugees, the Pope asked that "indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigors of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity."

In concluding his speech, Francis appealed for an end to conflicts in African countries and urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. He also asked God to give comfort to the families of the children who were killed by the Pakistani Taliban at a school in the city of Peshawar last week, and thanked those helping the victims of the Ebola epidemic.