Pope Francis: End 'genocide' of Christians in the Middle East
Pope Francis called for an end to the “genocide” of Christians in the Middle East, during a three-nation tour of South America.
“Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus," he said in Bolivia on Thursday.
"In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end."
During the visit, Bolivian President Evo Morales handed the Pope - who has been noted for his criticisms of capitalism - a communism-inspired crucifix.
Many Christian activists have been alarmed at what they perceive as the marginalisation, persecution and often extermination of Christian communities across the Middle East, particularly at the hands of groups like al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS).
In Iraq, it is estimated that a million Christians - around two-thirds of all Iraq’s Christians - fled the country following the fall of Saddam Hussein.
After the northern city of Mosul fell to IS forces last June, the city's Christians were told to convert, pay a tax or be killed - leading many to flee.
Similarly, Syria's civil war has seen thousands of Christians killed and driven out of areas controlled by IS and other conservative Islamic groups.
Christian advocacy group Open Doors has criticised what it sees as the lack of action of Western leaders - particularly from Christian-majority countries - to address the crisis facing Christians.
Open Doors CEO David Curry told the Christian Post website that "there has been a genocide of Christians in Iraq, and the Western world stood by and watched it happen."
“It's not that Christians are collateral damage; it's that they're being targeted - and wherever they are being targeted, there are future problems."
"I am very disappointed by the response of the US government and State Department in the protection and advocacy for persecuted Christians," he added.
"The power and leadership vacuum within the United States has created a very dangerous situation in Iraq for Christians."