VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In his appeals for an end to the persecution of minorities in Syria and Iraq, Pope Francis often has mentioned both the Christians and the Yezidis attacked by Islamic State fighters.

For more than half an hour Jan. 8, Pope Francis met with global leaders of the Yezidi ethnic and religious group, including their secular leader Tahsin Said Ali Beg and Sheikh Kato, who is their spiritual leader or “Baba Sheikh.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that in addition to the two leaders who live in Iraqi Kurdistan, other representatives of the community came from northern Iraq, Georgia and Germany, where many have fled.


Thanking Pope Francis for his support, one of the delegates referred to the pope as “father of the poor,” Father Lombardi said.

The Yezidi are a Kurdish community with a monotheistic religion with Zoroastrian and other influences. When militants of the Islamic State proclaimed a caliphate in June 2014 and began their rampage through Syria and northeastern Iraq, they particularly targeted Christians and Yezidis. They tried to covert many to Islam, killed thousands and drove tens of thousands from their homes with almost no warning.

Thanking the pope for his support “during this time of persecution and suffering,” the delegation informed the pope about “the situation of about 5,000 Yezidi women reduced to slavery” by the Islamic State, Father Lombardi said.

The delegation also spoke about the good relations between Christians and Yezidi and their efforts to help one another.

“The Holy Father assured the delegates of his spiritual closeness and his support in this time of trial, expressing his hope for a quick reestablishment of justice and the conditions necessary for a free and peaceful life for the Yezidi and all minorities facing discrimination and violence,” the spokesman said.