Arbil: Pope Francis said Christians are being "driven from the Middle East" in a message to Iraqi Christians forced to flee by Islamic State group jihadists.
"Christians are being driven from the Middle East in suffering," the pontiff said, according to a transcript of the video address due to be broadcast later Saturday during a visit by French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin to the Iraqi city of Arbil.
Thousands of Christians have taken refuge in Arbil after jihadists in June overran Mosul, Iraq`s second city, and forced hundreds of thousands of Christians and members of the Yazidi community to flee their homes.
Last weekend, the pontiff visited Turkey, during which he met Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch and spiritual leader of the world`s some 250 million Orthodox Christians.
The two clerics issued a joint statement in which they spoke out against anti-Christian violence in the region.
"As I mentioned in Ankara ... due to an extremist fundamentalist group, entire communities, especially, but not only, Christians and Yazidis, suffered, and still suffer, inhuman violence because of their ethnic religious identity," the pope said Saturday.
"Christians and Yazidis were forcibly removed from their homes, have had to give up everything to save their lives and not deny the faith.
"The violence has also affected sacred buildings, monuments, religious symbols and cultural heritage, as if to erase every trace, every memory of the other.
"It seems as if these people do not want us to be Christians," he said to the Iraqi Christians, who he said "bear witness to Christ".
"I think of the wounds, the pain of the mothers with their children, the elderly and displaced persons, the wounds of those who are victims of any kind of violence."
On Thursday, Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam`s most prestigious centre of learning, urged Christians in the Arab world to "stay rooted in their homelands" in the face of jihadist violence and not flee into exile.
"We condemn the forced exile of Christians and other religious or ethnic groups," it said.
Barbarin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Lyon, and his diocese is twinned with that of Mosul. He is on his second trip to Arbil since Mosul fell, having gone in July.
He is to meet Louis Raphael I Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church.