Speaking to members of the Yazidi community, a religious minority which has been persecuted by the Islamic State, Pope Francis said Wednesday that everyone has a fundamental right to freedom of religion, and no person or group has the power to deny it.
“It is unacceptable that human beings be persecuted and killed because of their religious affiliation! Every person has the right to freely profess his religious beliefs without constraints,” the Pope said Jan. 24 in a room adjoining the Vatican's Paul VI Hall to representatives of the Yazidi community who have taken refuge in Germany.
“I raise my voice in favor of Yazidi rights, above all the right to exist as a religious community: no one can bestow on themselves the power to cancel a religious group because it is not part of those called ‘tolerated.’”
Yazidis are a religious minority largely from the Nineveh Plains in Iraq. Communities can also be found in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, though many have fled to Europe, and particularly Germany, in response to religious persecution.
In March 2016, they were part of a group, which included Christians and Shia Muslims, declared to be victims of Islamic State genocide by the United States government. It marked the first time the U.S. had declared a genocide is taking place since 2004 in Darfur.
During the meeting, Francis voiced his support and prayers for the innocent victims of such “senseless and inhuman barbarism.”
He also expressed his concern for members of the Yazidi community who may still be in the hands of terrorists, stating his hope “that everything possible will be done to save them; as well as to trace the missing and to give identity and worthy burial to those killed.”
Even those who have been lucky enough to escape have still had to leave behind everything they had, he noted, deploring the “unspeakable violations” which have been committed against their fundamental human rights, such as abductions, slavery, torture, forced conversions, and killings.
“The international community cannot remain a silent and inert spectator in the face of your drama,” he said, adding an appeal to institutions and people of other communities to help them rebuild their homes and places of worship.
Even today, persecution against minorities, which includes Christians, continues, he pointed out, and said that the Holy See never tires “of intervening to denounce these situations, demanding recognition, protection and respect.”
“May God help us to build together a world where we can live in peace and brotherhood,” he concluded.