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Pope Francis_ReutersReuters
by THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.28 Mar 201516
An official Vatican communiqué Friday conveyed the Pope’s sorrow and solidarity with the families driven from their homes by Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. He likened their suffering to that of Jesus Christ during His passion, and sent them financial assistance, as well as Italian Easter cakes, as a sign of his closeness to them.

“The situation of Christian families and other groups of victims expelled from their homes and their villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and the plain of Nineveh, are a constant concern of Pope Francis,” read the message.

“The Pope prays for them,” the communiqué continues, “and hopes that they can return and resume their lives in the lands and places where, for hundreds of years, they have lived and woven relationships of good relations with everyone.”

This is not the first time that Pope Francis has reached out to the displaced Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, who seem to be a particular concern of his. At Christmas, the Pope telephoned the Iraqi Christian community, and his words were broadcast over an Italian Catholic television station in Iraq.

“I greet you all in this evening of Christmas,” the Pope said. “I embrace you all and wish you all a holy Christmas.”

“Dear brothers and sisters,” Francis continued “I am very, very close to you with all of my heart. May the Lord caress you with His tenderness.”

In his message Friday, Francis invited the Iraqi Christians to unite their sufferings to those of Jesus during Holy Week.

In our imminent celebration of Holy Week, Francis said, “These families share with Christ the unjust violence of which they are made victims, and participate in the suffering of Christ himself.”

In a statement released Friday, the Vatican condemned with unprecedented bluntness the “repulsive and damnable” atrocities wrought by the Islamic State.

The Pope is sending Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the head of the Vatican congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as his personal representative, to Iraq. The cardinal will be taking with him a number of traditional Italian Easter cakes in the shape of doves called “colombe,” which were purchased thanks to a special collection taken up from the families of the Catholic Diocese of Rome.

The gift is meant “to share the joy of Easter and as a harbinger of good based on faith in the Resurrection of Christ,” the communiqué said.

The communiqué also said that the Pope has sent a similar message and gifts to suffering families in the north of Nigeria to let them know he remembers them and is close to them this Easter.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.