VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis on Sunday expressed outrage at violence aimed at religious minorities in Iraq, where fleeing children have died of thirst, and called on the world "to stop these crimes."
In a strongly worded message during his traditional Sunday blessing, Francis said the news from Iraq "leaves us in dismay and disbelief." He cited "the thousands of people, including Christians, who have been brutally forced from their homes, children who have died from thirst during the escape and women who have been seized."
He also spoke of "the destruction of religious, historic and cultural treasures."
The pope urged the international community to find "an efficient political solution that can stop these crimes and re-establish the rule of law." He said his personal emissary, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, would depart imminently for Iraq "in order to better ensure those dear suffering populations of my closeness to them."
Filoni, the Vatican's ambassador in Baghdad during the Iraqi war, will travel to Iraq to show solidarity with Christians, who have been among those targeted by Islamic militants for elimination. Filoni has acknowledged in an interview with Vatican Radio the difficulty in reaching the region where thousands of refugees are starving.
In preparation for his departure, which could come as early as Monday, Filoni met briefly with the pope Sunday evening. The Vatican said in a statement that the pope gave personal instructions for the mission and entrusted him with an unspecified sum of money to provide urgent help "as a concrete sign of the pope's solidarity."
The pope also called attention to the renewed violence in Gaza, after a brief cease-fire, "that kills innocent victims and only worsens the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians."
The pontiff departs Wednesday for Korea and asked the faithful "please, accompany me with your prayer."